Swegas - Child of Light. 1971 England

Swegas' debut Child of Light features a nice mix of horn rock, Brit-Jazz, progressive rock, and even some free jazz. There's some strong Hammond organ and jazzy electric guitar work are on display here, along with a full stage band section (trombone, trumpet, and dual saxophones) who get in a few superbly intricate charts. And excellent soulful vocals. Definitely not your simple blues based horn rock album, as was typical of the era. Swegas ties closest to fellow countrymen Brainchild and Heaven rather than the usual American suspects like Blood, Sweat and Tears. Though I'd submit Swegas are not near as infectious as Brainchild in the songwriting department. Five long tracks here that allow the band to stretch out in a creative, improvisational jazz rock manner. 'Photographs' is an exceptional example of the genre. Also digging the painted naked lady Swingin' London gatefold cover.

Personal collection
LP: 1971 Trend

Was released not only in England (which is the origin of the copy I own), but also in France and Germany. Not reissued on CD or LP (legitimately I mean of course) as I update this post from the old CDRWL blog (and with a fresh listen).

Neuronium - The Visitor. 1981 Spain

The Visitor is the 4th album by "psychotronic" Spanish electronic group Neuronium. On this album, the group is a duo of Michel Huygen and Carlos Guirao, who play no less than 15 different synthesizers. Surprising then that there really isn't that much tonal color throughout, and almost no sequencing. The canvas is more broad brushed, similar to late 70s Vangelis in that way, an artist Neuronium seems to look up to more than Klaus Schulze or Tangerine Dream. Guirao also provides acoustic guitar, a much needed sound in an otherwise sterile environment. Best of all is 3rd wheel member Santi Pico's electric guitar, and he has decidedly sharp edged tone that is much welcomed. Unfortunately his contribution is limited to two tracks, and both appearances are short at that. And then finally we have vocals here, an idea that I'm not philosophically against on an electronic album, but is rarely utilized properly. And Neuronium is no exception, as the gentleman they chose, Michel Guillamat, quite frankly isn't very good, and singing in English compounds the error. On the plus side, he's also infrequently used in the same manner as Pico's guitar. Overall a good entry for your progressive electronic collection, but if just starting out with Neuronium, go with their first 2 albums.

As luck would have it, I ended up with the original LP and the CD at the same time, and both have been sitting here neglected for over a year. The main reason for that is the CD I obtained is titled The New Visitor, which implies an entirely new recording. Since I could find no evidence to the contrary, I held off knowing I'd need to invest more time than usual in a full analysis. Well, there was no need for that, since the CD is a straight reissue of the LP. There's a new cover and it's "digitally remastered", but neither of these things warrant a new title.

Personal collection
LP: 1981 Auvi

The packaging of the LP is quite nice, and comes in a fine gatefold. It looks and feels like a product from the mid 1970s. The CD is barebones all the way. Typically with electronic music, the CD is the better choice from a sound perspective, but in this case I preferred everything about the LP. And the quality of the album doesn't justify keeping both, so I'm selling the CD and sticking with the vinyl here.

Redshift - Colder. 2011 England

Colder is the 14th album by Redshift (in the world of electronic music, live albums are often akin to a new studio release in that it's usually all entirely unique material). By this time, the ensemble Redshift had been around 15 years, and Mark Shreeve and Ian Boddy themselves have been going at it for 30 years (recorded history that is). So you should know what you're going to get here. And that's exactly what you do get. What's that again?

Oh yes. You get good old fashion Berlin School heavy thick wedgy Big Moog analog heaven. Excellent melodies are dispersed, there are plenty of dynamic and meter shifts, and the whole thing oozes atmosphere. Redshift are a few years from their peak era of the late 90s and early 2000's (lack of real guitar does diminish their sound a bit), but this concert from 2010 is no slouch. The trio are clearly engaged, in sync, and shows off their professionalism. With Ian Boddy on board, the distinction between Redshift and ARC blurs a bit, but I'd say the former is heavier while the latter is more kinetic.

Personal collection
CD: 2011 Distant Sun

Richard Pinhas - Iceland. 1979 France

As one can probably guess by knowing nothing more than my avatar, I'm a huge Heldon fan. They were one of my initial discoveries when first digging deep into the European underground of the 70s. It was 1985 and I was all of 20, at quite the impressionable age I might add. So Heldon is one of those bands that helped shaped my tastes in music for the future.

However, Richard Pinhas' solo works didn't have the same impact on me as his band proper, even though he was the undisputed leader of the group. In this way he deviates considerably from, say, Edgar Froese and his comparable solo efforts to Tangerine Dream. Until recent times, the only two Pinhas albums I kept from the 80s were Chronolyse (where side 2 is as heavy as anything Heldon ever did), and L'Ethique (a diverse but also powerful Heldon-like release). So what was the issue with the others? Well from my perspective the key to the greatness of Richard Pinhas is his ability to mix fat analog synthesizers with searing electric guitar (usually played on his trusty 1954 Gibson Les Paul).

It's this latter element that is missing greatly from Iceland. It is, as the title and everyone else's reviews suggests, a icy cold landscape of droning synthesizers and almost-industrial like percussion. Take away 'The Last Kings of Thule', especially Part 2, and the guitar is entirely absent. In effect, it's a static release, missing much of the dynamism of Pinhas' best efforts. In reflecting back as I hear the CD, the music is quite good for what it sets out to do - basically begging you to put a coat on even during a sunny summer afternoon. 'Greenland' is also a very fine electronic piece, definitely recalling Pinhas' trademark sequencer sound with a fine melody throughout. The 25 minute CD bonus track 'Wintermusic' is basically a long extension of 'Iceland (Part 3)', and if anything, is even more sterile and cold than the album proper.

Overall a mixed effort, worth owning for fans, but I'd save hearing this one until you've digested all of the Heldon's and the 2 aforementioned Pinhas solo works first.

Personal collection
CD: 2006 Captain Trip (Japan)

Mini-LP that replicates the original LP. Which like the album itself, is fairly plain in design.

Goat - Commune. 2014 Sweden

Commune is the second album from Sweden's Goat, a band I've tracked from the beginning. Like fellow countrymen Dungen, Goat is one of those bands that have inexplicably gained a relatively large following despite playing a style of music that doesn't usually garner such. There can be no doubt that Goat have tapped into the psychedelic strain that was so very prominent in the early 1970's Swedish landscape. And the country seems to have always had a predilection for mixing far away indigenous music into that unique strain. In this case for Goat, that would be the Saharan music of the Tuareg's. Apparently - unbeknownst to me - there's a subgenre that has been recently born that defines the electrified form of this music: Tishoumaren. I'm a novice on that point, but regardless, Goat has basically infused a new ingredient into an old recipe. Ignoring any cultural, spiritual, or political messaging, one can focus on the music itself. A music that is highly melodic, with tribal drumming, female chanting, and deliciously wicked fuzz guitar. The album gets stronger as it goes, and by the time we reach the summit with 'Hide From the Sun' (strange title if we're summiting, perhaps they were cave dwelling. I digress...) - you too will be having your very own spiritual moments. And for this, Goat has completely succeeded. If a title like Flasket Brinner Goes to Mali sounds enticing, then may I suggest Commune to you?

Personal collection
CD: 2014 Sub Pop

Blows my mind a band like Goat would be on Sub Pop, but OK...

Simon Jensen Band - All You Can Eat. 2005 Sweden

Simon Jensen is the flautist for the Swedish ensemble Grovjobb. And Grovjobb are one of the finest recent bands to play in the organic psychedelic space rock field, recalling pioneers from their own country like Algarnas Tradgard, Flasket Brinner, and Kebnekaise. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from Simon’s own band, but from the get-go it’s apparent he’s interested in creating a flute jazz fusion album along the lines of early Bjorn J:Son Lindh, Lloyd McNeill, and Jeremy Steig. Jazz standard ‘Take Five’ opens the album in fine fashion, certainly one of the coolest jazz songs ever composed. ‘That Blues’ continues down the retro 70’s jazz road, with some fine muted trumpet work. ‘Summertime’ is another standard, done very well, as Jensen turns in some great flute performances. From here, the proceedings get more interesting as they play their own compositions. ‘Phenomenon’ could be considered post rock, but with a groove that screams the 1970’s. In addition, accordion is displayed as a lead here, in a way that I’ve never heard the instrument used before. Fantastic. ‘Minimum’ has a blues groove, with organ backdrop and plenty of flute soloing. Again, the accordion is utilized in a lead role, following from an almost Soft Machine styled break. And there’s some heavily affected cello adding accents. Certainly one of the highlights of the disc. ‘Something With Cheese’ is self-referential, as many artists today are probably too self-conscious. A fine tenor sax melody carries it through to the end, even if it’s a bit too fun. ‘Windflower’ starts as a moody and introspective piece with organ drones, scattered drums, and flute soloing. Finally a beat settles in, and Jensen takes over with some beautiful melodious playing. ‘Blue Glass (including Brain)’ is the first tune to recall his prior band Grovjobb, and is a psyched out heavy flute rock piece, bordering on a freak-out. This is, as one may guess, my favorite track on the album. ‘Baghdad 2003’ is as exotic as the title, with cello creating a sitar-like sound and electric piano providing the accents. Naturally the song has a Middle Eastern vibe in the flute soloing. It’s also probably the album’s most intense piece in terms of mood. ‘Blueberry Soup’ ends the album on a lighter note with a syncopated organ beat and the usual great melodic soloing by Jensen.

Being a flute jazz fan, this album is very easy for me to enjoy. Plenty of variety for those looking for more than standard jazz fare as well.

Personal collection
CD: 2005 Blue Beat

Autumn - Oceanworld. 1977-1978 England (archival)

When Autumn's release first hit the shelves in 1999, the buzz surrounding it was enormous at the time. A whole album's worth of prime instrumental progressive rock was on offer, said the masses. I dutifully picked up my own copy of the CD then, and all I had to say is that the advertisements were justified.

It's hard to imagine that was nearly 20 years ago. On this revisit, I was reminded on just how good this album really is. Recorded between 1977 and 1978, this was just the type of original-late-era progressive rock that was being shunned by the major labels and radio of the day, and thus getting signed was difficult. Fortunately the music was well preserved and history wins the day. Autumn definitely drew from the big-names well of the time, and you'll predominantly hear bands such as Camel, Genesis, and Yes in these grooves. The influences might be apparent, but the music and melodies are definitely original, and there are some very fine breaks here that recall early Gracious! for example - the same kind the Italians are more famous for.

In reviewing my collection, I think this is the best archival album from England I own that is strictly 70's classic progressive rock - of a previously unknown group I should add. We're more accustomed to the excellent unearthed progressive rock album here in the United States, where the labels were never much interested in the genre to begin with. But it appears that England was still cranking out decent product (England, First+Aid, etc...), and Autumn just fell through the cracks. I'm sure there were many more who had the same fate as Autumn, and I do hope that one day those recordings surface. For now though, don't miss this private release, that appears to have been forgotten again in the last 20 years or so.

Personal collection
CD: 1999 private

Comes with full liners and the sound is good, though a little polish was still needed. Interesting to note the band referred to this as a "mini album", but it's 36 minutes which was standard LP length of the era. Discogs, by their rules, lists it as a Mini Album as well because the CD advertises it as such. But I consider it a full length album.

Hypnos 69 - The Eclectic Measure. 2006 Belgium

There are very few bands with a stoner rock past that can really let go of that sound. They usually sneak it in here and there - a slab of fuzz, a studio-phased yell, or some throbbing bass and pounding 4/4 drums. But not Hypnos 69. When they ditched it to go all-in for an early 70s retro prog sound, the band never looked back. I haven't heard (to date) the predecessor The Intrigue of Perception, but it's apparent the band's metamorphosis happened there, as their debut most certainly is stoner rock.

Hypnos 69's sound draws heavily from the vaults of 1971 Europe, especially the UK. And while you'll often read that King Crimson is the primary influence (I think the addition of woodwinds adds to this idea), the only track where it's painfully obvious is 'Ominous (But Fooled Before)' - a composition that borrows some ideas from KC's first 2 landmark albums. Perhaps surprisingly, it is also my favorite song on the album, despite the similarities. Overall though, if the Vertigo Swirl roster of bands from 1971 to 1973 hold your interest, it would be hard to imagine The Eclectic Measure not (pardon me) measuring up. Maybe not quite the same stunning emulation as later upcomers such as Diagonal and Astra, but that's the ballpark we're talking about here.

Personal collection
CD: 2006 Elektrohasch (Germany)

Bought this one at the same time as when Legacy was released in 2010. I can't believe it's already been 8 years... jeesh, where does the time go?

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. Their debut had me mesmerized into a trance like state, with their modern take on the female space whisperers of the early 70s Krautrock scene. For me it's one of the very best neo-Kraut albums to be heard.

So when KamaSutra BlackBelt first hit the shelves, I pounced on it like a cat with new yarn. And while it didn't have the same impact as the debut (how could it really?), I was suitably impressed, rated it a 4.0/Gnosis 11 and moved on. Strangely though, as it came up for play again, I couldn't remember a thing about it, even though it was a short 4 years ago. Hmm, strange.

Now I know why. KamaSutra BlackBelt is not really a Krautrock album at all, but rather a pure neo-psych long play. The compositions are well written, our duo of gals actually sing, and there's plenty of great retro keyboards and guitar fuzz to cuddle up with. There's a James Bond/spy flick theme throughout, so they are definitely setting the controls for the heart of the Hipster. The longer tracks are, predictably, the better ones here demonstrating some nice development within. 'Thousand Miles' and 'Still Flaky But Free' are but two great examples of this. The best is saved for last though, as they dig into their Krautrock instumental roots with the lengthy 'Whitewash'.

Of all the neo Krautrock bands coming from Germany since the 90's, my vote goes to Polytoxicomane Philharmonie / Chickencage Experience for being the most innovative - perhaps even the best representative overall. Hopefully we haven't heard the last from them.

Personal collection
CD: 2014 Nasoni

Comes in a small wallet-sized digi-pak.

Chickencage Experience - An Eggspoiltation Movie. 2012 Germany

Basically the 4th Polytoxicomane Philharmonie album, Chickencage Experience pays homage to the female whispered space rock of the early 1970s. A perfect realization of psychedelic bluesy guitars, steady groove rhythms, copious phasing in the studio, synthesizers galore, and of course soft female vocals from a duo of angels. The most intense moments of Galactic Supermarket, Cosmic Jokers, Gong's Gilli Smyth, and Gilles Zeitschiff... meet Revolutionary Army of the Infant Jesus and Dead Can Dance at their most transcendental. Where you wanted Ash Ra Tempel's 'Jenseits' to go, and this time the dream didn't end.

And I haven't even watched the video yet that comes with it! (June 2018 note: still haven't!)

I sit in stunned silence.

Personal collection
CD: 2012 Nasoni w/DVD

Last listen: May 2013

Cranium Pie - Mechanisms Part 1. 2011 England

Cranium Pie's debut album is like being dropped into some obscure studio in London circa 1970. Imagine Pink Floyd and Soft Machine at their peak and you have an idea of what we're dealing with here. They really nail the psychedelic progressive creativity of the era.

The above represented my virtual scribbled notes over on Under the Radar (and RYM) back in December of 2011. And, as expected, I don't think any one actually read it. So I will flesh this out a bit more so more people won't read it (huh?).

I'm not sure I can think of too many albums that really capture that particular magic of the 1970 UK underground like Cranium Pie has done here. The opening track actually sounds like Pink Floyd on their way to see Tangerine Dream. The possibilities are endless. 'Rememberrr' is a track for the ages. Extremely powerful with heavy organ, screaming guitar, echoed/treated vocals, and constantly on-the-move rhythms. 'Zones' picks right up from that and pulverizes you into the cosmic void. The title track goes back to the exciting premise of 'Rememberrr', perhaps just a bit less focused, but brilliant all the same.

This one fell just a hair short of masterpiece status, but I have to think it will end of up my Best of the 2010 Decade list, whatever the heck that is anyway.

Personal collection
CD: 2011 Regal Crabomophone

The CD comes in a small cardboard digipak, and is numbered. Cranium Pie is notorious for all of their product to be difficult to source, and expensive at that. Hence this remains the only album I own by them. And even at that, I had to order it straight from the band, and considering postage, was no bargain. But I had been assured by trusted advisers it was worth it. And they were not wrong.

Exmagma - Goldball. 1975 Germany

Back in the late 80s, when I was first deep diving into the rarities' catalogs of the day, Goldball was a title that showed up fairly often (I had no idea there was a "first" album). Being on Richard Pinhas' Urus label, I was most intrigued by which members of Magma had branched off and what kind of Zeuhl album they'd created.

BZZT! Imagine my surprise when I first heard the album. I wasn't pleased. But only a few short years later, I began to appreciate the type of underground proggy jazz rock that Exmagma dabbled in. While I tend to see many reviews point the listener to Soft Machine and Weather Report, I personally hear very little of that. What I do hear is exactly the pedigree of the band - and that would be Wolfgang Dauner's Et Cetera. It's a bit more progged up, and less improvisational overall, but in effect Dauner's stamp is all over this. It's keyboard driven, and quite inventive, with multiple shifts within each short track.

The odd thing about this album, is it contains 6 solid 4.0/Gnosis 11 tracks (out of 10), and yet I'm walking away with a 3.5/Gnosis 10 here. Part of the problem is the album comes across more as outtakes than a cohesive whole. But worse is the longest track 'Greetings to the Moroccan Farmers' is a complete waste of time. It's generously called free jazz, but really it's nothing more than noodling around, sounding like they're tuning their instruments. Why anyone would think someone would want to hear this is beyond my guess - and it's incongruous with the rest of the album. 'Tango Wolperaiso' is also a weak improv entry, but at least it fits the motif. So there's about 21 minutes of excellent music, which is worthy in of itself, but not a monster album in my estimation.

Personal collection
CD: 2003 Daily (w/ their debut album)

As noted above my first copy was the LP on Urus, which I sold for a nice profit after getting the 2 for 1 CD upon release. No regrets here.

Lord Flimnap - Point of View. 1989 Israel

Had someone slipped me a cassette of this album, labeled it "unknown prog band 1982 UK", I would have believed it. Well the cassette part is true, but 7 years later - and from the unlikely country of Israel. This is square-on-of-the-era amateurish New Wave of British Progressive rock. It has the thuddy production, the meandering-don't-make-sense compositions, the semi-theatrical vocals, and the Rush like guitar breaks. Lord Flimnap could very well have been the predecessor/followup to groups like Trilogy or Tamarisk.

As these albums tend to be, it starts off unconvincingly, and I was struggling to buy into the concept. Though I was most intrigued by some of the odd breaks on opener 'The Wilderness' (aptly named I might add). After the somewhat mundane 'Trapped in the Marsh', the album really draws you in on 'Prodigy'. By the 10+ minute epic 'Out of My Way' (yet another well named song), the album is firing on all cylinders. It's completely unpredictable, but filled with great ideas, and by this time the ears have adjusted to the production. I love albums like this from the 80s, when everyone was making it up as they were going along, presuming (probably) few would hear it anyway. If you're a fan of the freewheeling 1980-1983 NWOBPR cassette scene, you'll want to obtain this one.

Personal collection
CD: 2004 Earsay

The original was an obscure cassette that is not even listed on Discogs as I write this. A year later, the somewhat chintzy, but well-distributed German label World Wide Records picked it up for CD release. The Earsay issue is the first domestic release. Special thanks goes to Gal for the gift!

Hinn Islenski Thursaflokkur - Pursabit. 1979 Iceland

Hinn íslenski þursaflokkur, anglicized to Hinn Islenski Thursaflokkur, and often times referred to simply as Thursaflokkur, were one of Iceland's most interesting progressive rock bands. On Pursabit (Þursabit), the music could be characterized as an Icelandic Gryphon, reaching back to an historical period of music, and bringing it forward to the 1970s. One will also hear the zany sounds of Samla Mammas Manna, the melodic tones of Focus, as well as some typical European jazz fusion. This one takes a bit to get going, as it dabbles more in folkloric realms at the beginning. The meat of the album starts on track 5 'Æri-Tobbi' and concludes on track 9 'Sjö Sinnum', before closing as it began. This album is a borderline 3.5/4.0 (Gnosis 10/11), but I'm boosting it primarily due to the unique content it displays. There really wasn't any other band like Hinn Islenski Thursaflokkur.

Personal collection
CD: 1992 Steinar

I was expecting this CD to be quite rare nowadays, but it turns out to have been reissued two more times on CD. I first thought the Discogs entry for the Steinar CD to be a mistake, since it was from 1998, but the scans clearly show it to be a later press (I need to add the original CD now!). In 2009 another Icelandic pressing showed up.

Sensitiva Immagine ‎- E Tutto Cominciò Così... 1978 Italy

Sensitiva Immagine arrived during the real barren years of Italian prog. We talk about this phenomena briefly here Italian prog from 1987 and beyond.  The latest LP reissue suggests a date of 1978, but it could just be propagating bad data (1979 or 1980 is more likely). In any case, Sensitiva Immagine was an oasis in a desert, looking towards none other than classic Genesis for inspiration. At this time in Italy, the only band I can think of doing similar was Emphasis, who had half an album with La Statale 17. But they were from the far north bordering Austria, and sang in English. Sensitiva Immagine does it the right way, and sings in the native tongue, which of course then adds in the classic early 70s Italian prog sound as well, like Premiata Forneria Marconi for example. In some ways, Sensitiva Immagine could be considered ahead of their time, predicting the rise of the neo Italian prog movement by at least 8 years. One of only a handful of classic Italian prog albums from 1978 to 1987 you'll find. Don't overlook this one.

Personal collection
CD: 1991 Melos (Japan)

The CD comes in a fine die-cut digi-pak. A few years later, the CD was issued domestically in Italy on the now-also-hard-to-find Kaliphonia label. So finding this one on CD will present a challenge (and a bit of extra expense). I bought mine at the time of release. There is a 2015 LP reissue, which is what I was referencing above (the liner notes in Italian are on display in Discogs).

Skin Alley - Two Quid Deal? 1972 England

For years I passed over this one in the bins. The US Stax copy was a regular buck bin special, and with that ridiculous cartoon rat and cheese cover, it never occurred to me this would be anything worth pursuing. Years later I discovered their brilliant debut and very good followup, but maintained (for no good reason really) that this must have been their sellout album.

And I was right. Except.... Skin Alley were no good at it! You can tell this album is pandering to the early 70s US Billboard charts. You can hear popular bands at the time like Rare Earth in these grooves. But even so, they cannot seem to stop themselves from a full helping of a mid song progressive rock break. It's in their DNA. So while the first 3 tracks all start out with a bit of concern, it doesn't take long for the band to find their sea legs, and create music similar to their debut, especially on 'Bad Words & Evil People'. I wasn't too keen on 'Graveyard Shuffle' nor 'So Glad', but 'A Final Coat' takes us back to the opening trio of tracks. And 'The Demagogue' is similar. For my tastes the best track is the instrumental 'Skin Valley Serenada' that seems to be the model blueprint for a band like Rousseau for example. A gorgeous flute melody over a happening jazzy rhythm pattern makes this one special. In my opinion, Two Quid Deal surpasses To Pagham and Beyond in quality. Yes, that surprised me too.

Personal collection
CD: 2005 Strange Days (Japan)

The above comes in a fine mini-LP. I guess because the album was long considered a dollar bin special, the album was poorly served in the reissue market. The bare bones cheap German Line version came out in 1989, and that's all there was until this expensive Japanese CD hit the market (that I just recently got a good deal on, hence my first time to hear the album!). As such bootlegs proliferated for many years until Esoteric finally reissued the album properly in 2011.

Beggars Opera - Waters of Change. 1971 Scotland

Scotland's Beggars Opera's second effort is one of the more overlooked albums from the rich progressive rock landscape of 1971. The key track here is 'I've No Idea', as in I've no idea why it's taken me 22 years to revisit this album. And I've no idea why I didn't recognize its brilliance until last night. While the band may have toned down their sound from Act One, they raised their game in the songwriting department. Waters of Change represents that wonderful 1971 UK progressive rock sound as also found in bands as diverse as Cressida, Gracious, Nektar, and Uriah Heep. They have quite a large ensemble, including a full time mellotron player, who happens to be female and is strongly involved in the songwriting. This gives a unique slant on the otherwise testosterone driven genre, especially back in those days. Alan Park's organ, though, wins the day, as he did on Act One. Outside of the interludes, including the somewhat silly 'Silver Peacock Intro', all the songs here are quite involved, well thought out, highly melodic, and great for listening over and over.

Personal collection
LP: 1974 Vertigo (Germany)
CD: 1995 Repertoire (Germany)

The LP comes in a fine gatefold. My copy is on the German "spaceship" label, and could almost be considered "common". True original UK Vertigo Swirls still hold value though. The CD comes with unique liner notes written by Chris Welch (who incidentally I saw on the tele last night as one of the participants on a show highlighting the making of Deep Purple's Machine Head).

Titan ‎- A Raining Sun Of Light & Love, For You & You & You... 2007 USA

I remember being tipped to this band back when it first came out 11 years ago. I was as skeptical as ever. A Brooklyn based "stoner" band allegedly playing in the Krautrock style. Sorry, heard that one before fellas. And what one would usually get in that scenario is bonehead chords of fuzz, a on-his-6th whiskey vocalist, 4/4 pounding drums, and hopefully some cartoon art of dragsters, pinball machines, and disproportionate top heavy females with lots of tattoos. Yea, we're hipsters from Brooklyn! Nya-nya. In any case, enough recs came my way that I reluctantly pulled the trigger...

...And I became a Brooklyn stoner hipster on the spot.

After a few listens in 2007, I filed it away with a high grade, and haven't revisited since. Here we are, and I somewhat dreaded it. I probably was just in the mood for it or something like that. Tastes change and evolve over the years right?

I like it even better now. If for nothing else on the album, it's hard to imagine anyone who is into the early 70s proto prog sound not to be absolutely floored by 'Annals of the Former World'. It is absolute perfection in every sense of the word. It constantly changes, has haunting vocals, is heavy as all get out, has some absolutely incredible Hammond organ, is trippy in the best Krautrock style, and the guitar solos are sublime. Maybe the best track I've ever heard from modern times that encapsulates all that was great about 1971. The closest comparison to my ears is Nektar's Journey to the Centre of the Eye... sped up and then cranked to 11.

'Hashishin Ohel' is largely a continuation of the above, with a bit of a noisy ending, but overall is brilliant in its own right. 'Obelisk Orbit Overdrive' is a bit more tedious, but certainly not a poor track, just in comparison with what came before it, one would have hoped for a bit more clarity and editing.

The album ends in a very interesting fashion, with 'Aufruf der Pilz'. As its title hints at, this is a pure play Krautrock attempt. Now I would imagine the gut reaction here, especially for hipsters, is to go right for the Neu! comparison. I don't think so. Actually to me it sounds like the Ashra power trio years of 1979 to 1980 - especially on the archival tapes where the guitars are decidedly more psychedelic. An excellent rendition and very melodic to boot.

These guys were plugged in perfectly at the time. I have two others in the collection from them (before and after), but I don't recall those being quite at this level. And then they sadly disappeared.

As I update this post, the album is practically a commodity here in the States. You can obtain a new CD for under $4, and the LP for under $10. That's crazy. One day I can't imagine that will hold true. When that will be, who knows? Whatever the case, one can not go wrong at that price in trying this one out! It costs less than a hamburger.

Personal collection
CD: 2007 Tee Pee

The CD comes in a fine digi-pak.

Pseudo Buddha ‎- 3 Months In Fat City! - Hooka-Jooka Vol. IV. 2002 USA

I had been impressed by San Antonio based Pseudo Buddha's contribution to the Fluorescent Tunnelvision space rock anthology. A lot of bands today exist to create loose, jamming, psychedelic music and Pseudo Buddha are one of the best. Four long tracks were culled from even longer jams (on 4 different dates) and spliced together for a truly mind blowing cosmic freakout. Not a lot of wasted notes, which is truly remarkable. Maybe it's in the editing, and I'm all for a good editing - especially when it comes to improvisational music (if only more bands took a page from this playbook). Imagine Agitation Free on Second jamming with Amon Duul II on Yeti. Many sounds are deployed - including exotic stringed instruments, winds, hand percussion, and analog electronics. This album captures the true spirit of Krautrock.

Personal collection
CD: 2002 Dogfingers

Maquina - Why? 1970 Spain

Maquina represent the earliest forays into psychedelic music for Spain, similar to fellow countrymen Cerebrum. Coming from Barcelona, their Catalan roots look north to France for inspiration, and one can hear snippets of Les Goths, Omega Plus, Dickens, even the Chico Magnetic Band. The album opens with its gem 'I Believe', a beautiful piano led piece, with a gorgeous melody and some wicked fuzz. The 2 part, 25 minute title track is a loose jam for the most part, and the length takes quite a bit out of its bite. Had this been consolidated into 10 minutes, it would have been a marvel. Again, it's hard to look past the psychedelic guitar here, as he's definitely in "fire" mode most of the time. It's a short album, and even worse, it's short on ideas. On the plus side, when it does fire on all cylinders, the album is sublime. And for the historical record, that is 1970 Spain, it's quite an extraordinary accomplishment.

Personal collection
CD: 1993 PDI

This was the first CD to market, and I nailed it upon release. There are two bonus tracks from a 1969 single (not 100% sure of that - one song seems like a live version of that single). Originals were mythical in stature in the late 80s and early 90s. Turns out there were no less than 6 original pressings going through 1971, so the album isn't quite as rare as was presumed back then.

Ashra - Belle Alliance / Belle Alliance Plus. 1980 Germany (archival)

Belle Alliance is the second and final album by the trio of Gottsching, Ulbrich, and Grosskopf. There are many similarities to their previous effort Correlations, though there are some exceptions to be noted. 'Screamer' is very much rooted in the New Wave 80s sound, but with some fine psychedelic guitar soloing providing a great contrast of styles. 'Boomerang' tries for a reggae sound, with mixed results, but once again the guitar saves the day. 'Aerogen' gives one an idea of what happens when sequencer based electronic meets a power trio. 'Sausalito' could also be considered an instrumental progressive rock track, similar to maybe fellow countrymen Rousseau. 'Code Blue' goes deep into electronic space, not that dissimilar to Klaus Schulze's late 70s works. 'Mistral' takes us back to the glorious spacey electronics + guitar of the Blackouts album, and is just gorgeous. Overall an excellent, and diverse, album from veterans who were still exploring music in an exciting way. Unfortunately this album concluded the Virgin era for Ashra, as well as the trio itself.

Reviewing the second half separately, since it includes an extra disc of entirely new material. This would be the "Plus" part. There are only 3 tracks here, of which two make up the majority. 'Flying Turtles' is 11:25, whereas Voices of Heddernheim comes in at a whopping 24:21 ('Urscreamer' is 2:38 for reference). So basically what we have here is the jamming sessions that made up Belle Alliance - though it must be said both of these tracks are entirely unique. With a certain amount of editing, these 2 would have made a splendid addition to the original LP. Perhaps to be expected, the guitar is more psychedelic here, recalling Gottsching's and Ulbrich's Krautrock past. Personally speaking, I wouldn't want to own this album on CD without this extra disc, which was first introduced on Gottsching's own label in 2008.

Personal collection
LP: 1980 Virgin
CD: 2008 Arcangelo (Japan) as Belle Alliance Plus

The gatefold mini-LP styled CD is a 2 disc set that includes a full album's worth of material recorded from the same session. Inside the gatefold are photos of all 3 in the studio while recording. I first picked up the LP in the mid 1980s in my initial discovery of Ashra.

Il Bacio della Medusa - Deus Lo Volt. 2012 Italy

Il Bacio della Medusa returns with their 3rd opus, an album that is likely to please fans of classic early 1970s Italian progressive rock – and perhaps only to them. Allow me a chance to further clarify: If band names such as Delirium, Cervello, and Odissea send a chill up your spine, then Deus Lo Volt will be considered a must purchase. Otherwise, you may want to do a bit more research and get back to us. There is some Italian progressive rock that is easy to digest on initial listening (PFM, Le Orme, Acqua Fragile…) – and then there’s the deep-dive stuff – albums that require hours of listening to a preferred style and still love it despite the quirks. In other words, you have to be “all in” to appreciate an album such as this. Good, bad, or indifferent, I myself would have to be considered “all in”, so I think it’s a wonderful piece overall. But this is not the first album I’d pull from my collection for a co-worker looking to hear a few sounds from my collection. They’d look at me as if I’d just arrived from another universe (well, they do anyway, but let’s not go there…). Deus Lo Volt is a concept album about Pope Urbano II, the Papal overlord of none other than the First Crusade. If there was ever a topic that is likely to draw a gleeful smile from a shadowy progressive rock fan, well then... this has got to take the cake! What the lyrics interpret of his life and ambition is for Italian speakers only, and I could care a less really. I’m here for the music and the vocal representation. On this latter point, the male vocals here are of the 70s gruff variety similar to the aforementioned bands in sentence number #2.  Of course there’s the fluttering flute provided by no less than a shapely and beautiful long haired lass. All the other requisite sounds and themes are in place: Majestic keyboards, hard rocking guitars, and a rhythm section that can’t stand to stay on the same meter for more than 20 seconds. A couple of somewhat disappointing observations: The title track, for the first 5 minutes at least, sounds more like Iron Maiden on their debut than Italian prog rock. And while I love Maiden as much as the next person, I do feel it’s a bit incongruous here. Though the final two minutes of said track show off their Italo-prog cred – add flute - and go all Osanna on us. And then finally we get to the length of the disc. Now I know lots of folks feel that “filling the disc” with 80 minutes of music is tiresome, and while I may not completely agree, I do understand the point. But Deus Lo Vult is only 34 minutes long. Certainly another 10 or 15 minutes could have been added to fill out a normal LP length? We’re in Dalton territory here, right? On the plus side, the CD comes in a wonderful hardbound book cover, with an interesting lyric libretto with photos. I’m really enjoying this musically and aesthetically. But surely, oh surely, there  had to be another 10 good minutes sitting on the cutting room floor?

Personal collection
CD: 2012 private

As noted above, the CD is housed in a hardbound book cover with a libretto.

Last listen: September 18, 2012

Il Bacio della Medusa - Discesa Agl'inferi D'un Giovane Amante. 2008 Italy

Il Bacio della Medusa is back with their sophomore effort Discesa Agl'inferi D'un Giovane Amante. Just rolls off the tongue doesn't it? Well if there was any doubt where Il Bacio della Medusa's heart was after the debut, then those were put to rest for the opening here. With the addition of violin, Il Bacio della Medusa declares that they are indeed a progressive rock band, and they're here to stay. Simone Cecchini's vocals have definitely improved, and you can tell he's studied the early 70s masters intently (and even more so on their 3rd album). Love the Pholas Dactylus styled psychotic narration. His performance is definitely one of the highlights of the disc. Meanwhile Diego Petrini gives the old fashioned piano more air time, which is always welcome here at UMR. Not to mention plenty of old school organ. Eva Morelli's staccato flute is layered on the constantly changing rhythms, and guitarist Brozetti still has a bit too much pig squeal in his guitar, but he can lay off when appropriate. For those who miss the glory days of Osanna, you could do worse than pick this album up on your next order.

Personal collection
CD: 2008 Black Widow

Last listen: September 2013

Il Bacio della Medusa - s/t. 2004 Italy

Il Bacio della Medusa may have entered the scene quietly, but that album cover certainly is striking. Like a cross between Nuova Idea's Clowns and Manilla Road's The Courts of Chaos, one might imagine this to be some wacky prog metal take on the classic Italian 70s scene. Fortunately it is not and is much more reverent to the Italian progressive rock masters than heavy metal. Still, this is definitely their heaviest album, and also their most modern sounding. It could pass for sophisticated hard rock as much as symphonic progressive. In that way, Il Bacio della Medusa started their career much in the same way as Deus Ex Machina. Hey, you gotta start somewhere. And in 2004, there was a lull in the retro progressive movement, and it seemed every band coming out of Italy were either prog metal nuts, or Dutch styled neo progressive bands singing in English, neither of which interested me much anymore. So here comes Il Bacio della Medusa with their flutes, psychotic Italian vocals, crazy dynamics, even an accordion, plus more ideas than they could control at that time. In retrospect, it's an excellent album, where perhaps the only fault was the aforementioned crunchy guitars, which belied their overall approach.

Personal collection
CD: 2004 Black Widow

Last listen: September 2013

In Spe - s/t. 1983 Estonia

Interesting that I've recently listened to - and reviewed - both Tako's second album and Solaris' debut, because In Spe sounds like a direct cross between the two. So once again we have a symphonic fusion album from communist era Eastern Europe. The songwriting here is splendid, as is the execution. Melodies are first and foremost, with some hair raising electric guitar and synthesizer breaks, of the kind you get when listening to classic early 70s Genesis or Camel. Wonderful flute as well. The majority of the album is instrumental, save 'Antidolorosum'. On this latter track I was reminded of the Estonian trailblazing group Mess. In other parts I do hear a certain classical symphonic background as one would hear on Horizont's Summer in Town for example. Even though Glasnost had yet to happen, the ice was thawing on the fringes of the empire, and In Spe was torching it away from the underground. One of the best albums of its type. Mandatory.

Personal collection
CD: 1999 Eesti Raadio

The CD comes in a very fine and sturdy 3 panel digi-pak. If on a budget, the original LP will prove far cheaper, as the CD is long gone from the marketplace. As is always the case with Eastern European albums from the 70s and 80s, the CD will sound better than the cheaply made LPs. But the recording is impeccable as expected.

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...