Tuesday, December 13, 2016

21st Century Kosmische Musik

It seems to me that the 1960s German experimental/progressive rock music scene can be split into four basic avenues: 1) those that came out of the free or acid jazz-based rhythm and sound experiments of the so-called Düsseldorf School of Experimental or "Kosmische Musik," like Can, La Dusseldorf, Faust, Guru Guru, and Neu!; 2) those that focused on long jam sessions exploring Eastern instruments, rhythms and sounds, like Amon Düül II, Gila, and Popul Vuh; 3) those that came out of the so-called "Berlin School of Electronic Music," like Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze, Ashra Tempel, Manuel Göttsching, Kraftwerk, Kluster, and; 4) those that grew to try to emulate the spacey, hypnotic psychedelic rock coming out of England like Pink Floyd and Hawkwind--Grobschnitt, Eloy, Neuschwanstein. This page is going to be about the first two groups since the Berlin School became included in what we call the "Progressive Electronic" subgenre and the Pink Floyd imitators became included in the "Psychedelic/Space Rock" subgenre.
     The Kosmische Musik style of music also became known--from those listening, talking and writing about it from outside Germany (particularly in the UK)--as "Krautrock." I consider this later term one of a derogatory nature. The word "kraut" (whose literal translation is "herb" but is most often associated in our Anglo-centric world with the storable fermented cabbage dish known as "sauerkraut") is an offensive slang term used initially by foreign soldiers who were adversaries/enemies of the German nation in World War I and World War II. I am sure that the term arose from a reference to the supposed predominance of sauerkraut in the German diet and as a reference to the strong smell that sauerkraut has as well as of it's common digestive result (flatulence). Likewise, "Krautrock" is a term created and used by non-Germans (originally, mostly British) to refer to a spectrum of music coming out of Germany during the late 1960s and 1970s. I choose to use the term, "Kosmische Musik," as it is the term that some members within the German experimental music scene of the late 60s and early 70s chose to call their own new style and sound of music--and because, in my opinion, it does a much better job of trying to explain the effect and scene of the drug-induced and altered, or "cosmic," states of consciousness that the creators of these hypnotic rhythms and experimentations in electronic sounds were producing--and which they were going for.

There are many people who wonder what it is that separates Kosmische Musik (or "Krautrock") from Progressive Electronic music. After all, they both attribute their origins to the same time and same locations and they both enjoyed frequent crossings over of groups and artists between the two. Where do they differentiate?
     To my mind the difference lies in the use of more live, human played instruments during the performance of a song--as is more foundational to Krautrock music. The electronic scene relies more on computer or keyboard sequenced sounds and rhythms for its sound production. Kosmische musik is often more organic and emotional while Progressive Electronic music is more fabricated and cerebral.

While I, myself, was not particularly tuned into the music coming out of Germany in the 1960s and 70s, I was aware of it. I purchased multiple albums by Kraftwerk, Can, and Tangerine Dream. I enjoyed these albums but I felt no deep passion for the music contained therein. However, the "ambient" and "New Age" scene(s) that followed or, more correctly, that survived from the Kosmische music scene, did suck me in--especially as I came to develop a personal meditation practice and as I came to know and appreciate the phenomenon known as "entrainment" rather intimately. Today, jam bands attract me more and more; it is the more melodically successful and rhythmically hypnotic songs from today's bands that win me over--including some of the music from the bands and albums listed below.
      Though there are very few bands that continued experimenting within the domain of Kosmische Musik during the 1980s through to the Naughties, the subgenre has had a bit of a renaissance in the last 20 years--and not just from Germans. Japan's ACID MOTHERS TEMPLE has been prolifically active since the 1990s. DZYAN, ELECTRIC ORANGE and Russia's VESPERO have each had multiple releases in the last 15 years while several others in the Northern European region have had at least two releases in the past ten years. Here are some of the ones that I know and enjoy:

WESERBERGLAND Sehr Kosmisch, Ganz Progish (2017)

ELECTRIC ORANGE Morbus (2007), Volume 10 (2014),
Misophonia (2016)

Øresund Space Collective (2006)

THE SPACELORDS The Liquid Sun (2016)

CAMERA Radiate! (2012), Remember I Was Carbon Dioxide (2014)

THE SPACIOUS MIND Rotvälta (2005)


MY BROTHER THE WIND I Wash My Soul in the Stream of Infinity (2011),
Once There Was a Time When Time and Space Were One (2014)

VESPERO By the Waters of Tomorrow (2010); Lique Mekwas (2016)

SEVEN THAT SPELLS Superautobahn (2012), The Death and Resurrection of Krautrock: IO (2014)


Saturday, December 10, 2016

2014: Other albums worth checking out for your selves

Below you will find albums from the hundreds of 2014 releases that I happened to hear that impressed me enough to collect them for possible future review but which, ultimately, failed to hold enough interest for me to want to invest the extra time and effort necessary to write a proper review. Meritorious music should be shared--even if it is not to my own personal stylistic liking. I understand that everyone else has unique and differing likes and preferences to those of mine, thus I "unleash" these albums to the general public with the recommendation that you check them out for yourselves. Good luck! and Happy listening! I hope you find some gems here for your own music listening pleasure!


Another confounding yet mesmerizing adventure into the Freak House of avant-garde composer Abel Gilbert, this one does not disappoint. Once again the listener is accompanied by vocalist Carolina Restuccia as your guide through the aural maze that is a Factor Burzaco album. I have to admit the awe and amazement of hearing an FB album has passed over me, but this album for some reason seems more comfortable, more coherent, more cohesive, and more familiar, which then translates into a more comfortable and interesting listening experience than the previous albums. Someday I will do an experiment by listening to all three albums back-to-back-to-back to try to get a feel for the different effects they have on me, but for now, let's suffice it to say that Abel & Co. have done it again: a masterpiece of thought-demanding, sanity-questioning, boundary-pushing music.


THE MERLIN BIRD Chapter and Verse

Brilliant concept: combining mediaeval and Baroque vocal and instrumental traditions with the modern prog world, but pulled off with minimal attention to sound engineering and other performance and production details. Chapter and Verse is an album that feels too scattered, unfocused, lacking cohesion and consistency--as well as lacking good production--but I LOVE the concept of blending medieval, Renaissance, and sacred church choral music stylings with both ancient acoustic and modern rock instrumentation while often using prog rock song stylings.
     I wish the singing was of a higher quality. The bands attention to and/or budget for recording/engineering needs great improvement. Many of the songs sound as if they were recorded in one take with the full band and no engineer and then left that way!

Favorite songs:  the anthemic, "Chapter and Verse" (2:56) (9/10); the pretty little instrumental, "In Dreams of Egypt" (1:23) (9/10); the beautiful harpsichord accompanied vocal of Shakira Searle on "Of Night and Day" (4:59) (8/10); the gorgeous Sergio Leone/Mediterranean-sounding instrumental "The Word That Was" (3:30) (9/10); the troubadour style story-song, "Unto Rome" (4:17) (9/10), and; "Another Told Story" (7:17) (9/10).

A band with a great idea and awesome but as-yet-unrealized potential.

ARLEKIN Disguise Serenades 

Throughout the listening experience of Disguise Serenade I was flooded with reminders of 1980's one off wonder BABYLON. It's that kind of sound, that kind of engineering, that kind of showman vocals, that kind of musicianship, that kind of naiveté. Like Babylon's eponymously titled album, I like this album very much.

1. "The Lost Path" (8:26) opens with quite a dramatic feel, with the incredible emotion packed into the vocal like Peter Gabriel or Matthew Parmenter or BABYLON's Doroccus. After the vocal opening The music takes over in more of a DISCIPLINE and then PINK FLOYD way. Excellent emotional lead guitar play with perfect band support make this song a sheer masterpiece--that is until the bouncy 80s drum beat and chord progression that takes over at the 6:20 mark. During this section the vocal matches less well. Excellent guitar play almost saves this song. (9/10)

2. "Dance of The Jester" (8:47) has so much of a Peter Gabriel-era Genesis feel to it. The dramatic vocal 'storyteller' presentation is so much like Peter Gabriel's--and Fish's--'in character' approach to performance vocals. However, the song on its own has nothing really new to add to the prog lexicon.(8/10)

3. "Romance" (5:00) is a bare-bones blues-based song almost like a DOORS song--in which, unfortunately, the vocal is rather weak and almost over the top in its dramatic affect. Again this song seems to lack anything new or fresh to make it very interesting. It might even be called dull. (7/10) 

4. "In This Puzzled Roundabout" (15:04) begins very powerfully like a classic DISCIPLINE song with some very simple instrumental support to the dramatic vocal performance. The spaciousness in the instrumental support is perfect for this vocal opening. At 2:05 an awesome instrumental section ensues in which an eerie keyboards solos while the background instruments build in intensity and volume. A minute later the rhythm section kicks it up to overdrive for thirty seconds before a gap of stillness opens the way for a very GENESIS sounding organ-led section. At 5:00 the vocal--now doubled up--returns with a strong melody to mirror the guitar arpeggios preceding and following it. This guitar-vocal cycle repeats a couple times before a brief TONY BANKSian solo bridges the way into a heavier almost BLACK SABBATH-section begins at the seven minute mark. Organ and then very fluid electric guitar solo lift us out of the dirge and back into the more upbeat realm of Foxtrot-era GENESIS--complete with Steve Hackett-like guitar work. Suddenly, at 10:05, a militaristic drum style takes us into a kind of "Get 'em out by Friday" section--except an awesome wah-treated guitar solo plays over the top. Awesome section! All too brief as at 11:52 the organ again leads the listener back into GENESIS/BABYLON land. Definitely my favorite song on the album--an "epic" for the ages. (9/10)

On progstreaming.com the album has a fifth song that is not listed in the liner notes of the official album release. 
  5(??). "Old Father East" (20:02) on progstreaming this song comes up as a 20 minute song but with a six minute gap of silence after the first instrumental song ends at the 3:59 mark, a second song begins at the ten minute mark--and it turns out to be an alternate (demo?) version of song #2, "Dance of The Jester."

Overall there is something lacking in the recording/engineering/mixing of this album that is again quite reminiscent of early Genesis and the 1980 Babylon release. Is this intentional? I do not know. But the musician's performances--including the vocals--are quite good and usually quite engaging. The album's two bookends, "The Lost Path" and "In This Puzzled Roundabout" are quite good.

82.5 on the Fish scales = a solid four star album; an excellent addition to any prog lover's music collection.

MY BROTHER THE WIND Once There Was A Time When Space and Time were One

This is a more diverse mix of improvisatinoal jams caught on tape than the previous studio album. Unfortunately, several of the songs fail to either engage me from the or else they fail to develop enough during their play to keep my interest (I can only listen to improvisational soloing for so long); the background grooves remain too static or else do too little of interest to gain my notice. (Even with close headphones listening.) The increased use of Mellotron is amazing wherever and whenever it is used, especially on “Garden of Delights,” “Thomas Mera Gartz,” and “Epilogue.”

Song #2, “Song of Innocence, Part 1” opens wonderfully with a guitar sound like THE AMAZING or Jesse Colin Young’s “Get Together”—which continues to wend and weave throughout the duration of the song. The drum play is quite enjoyable but the bass is very boring. This is unfortunately an example of both the strengths and weaknesses of this album: some great tracks are accompanied by some very boring parts.
Favorite songs:  the addictively groovin’ “Epilogue” (4:19) 10/10; the hard-driving “Into The Cosmic Halo” (6:40) (9/10); “Song of Innocence, Parts 1 & 2” (8:10), and the title song.   

A nice listen but nowhere as mind-blowing or engaging as I Wash My Soul in the Stream of Infinity. Three and a half stars. 

A SECRET RIVER Colours of Solitude

Colours of Solitude is a collection of melodic, catchy if rather simple, neo prog much in the same vein as 2012's Speak by I AND THOU. The delicate vocals are beautifully rendered by founding member and bassist, Andreas Ålöv. He sounds a bit like David Crosby, Chris Flynn from ART IN AMERICA, and the lead vocalist and creator of THE PSYCHEDELIC ENSEMBLE. The drums and bass playing are solid, the guitars quite nice (especially the jazzier sounds) but the keyboard work is the most interesting and enjoyable to tune into. Yes, Björn Sandberg is a real find--the "final piece of the puzzle" as the band itself says.

Favorites: the ANT PHILLIPS/MIKE RUTHERFORD-sounding opener, "Blinding Light" (5:59) (8/10); 4. "Colours of Solitude" (5:32) (8/10); the delicate and sensitive, 5. "Are You Coming With Me" (5:14) (9/10), and the pop-jazzy 6. "A Place to Start" (7:41) (8/10).

Nothing earth-shattering or particularly groundbreaking, just nice, pretty music. 3.5 stars.


Another submission of quirky avant music that people are allowing to be included into the "progressive rock" genre with similarities to Pingvorinkestern, Humble Grumble, UneXpect, Atomic Ape, Major Parkinson, Knifeworld, and even the modern Univers Zero--though Utopianisti is much more closely aligned to true jazz, if of the avant-garde stylings. All these groups are very talented, very tight, and very entertaining. But, gone are the smooth, slow developing songs--especially the long-playing "epics." Now seems to be the new era of staccato, stop and start, avant-garde and theatric production. It's as if today's bands are trying to pack nine minutes of music, story, and emotion into four minute songs. Is this the new prog?

My favorite songs include: "Pohjola" (8:09); "Bisphenol A" (4:11); "The Sundays of Love and Peace" (5:14);"Kynttiloitakin Vain Yksi" (6:16), and my favorite; "U.L.J.C. The Unnecessary Leftover Jam Compilation" (9:38).

A masterpiece of modern avant-jazz composition and performance. Upbeat, quirky, and unusual. However, this is just not my favorite kind of music.

3.5 stars rated up for quality.

MOE-TAR Entropy of the Century

A collection of quirky, intelligent and delightfully melodic "avant-pop" songs that are, in my humble opinion, distracted from by the highly engaging vocals of the uber-talented singer, songwriter and founder Moorea ("Moe") Dickason. I find it quite challenging to really listen to the music because of the draw of the intelligent song lyrics and their delivery style (which does, however, at times, get a bit repetitive and 'old'). Clearly a group of very talented musicians led by a duo with a clear and mature vision, this is highly recommended as another polished example of this new modern era of "poppy prog."

Favorite songs:  "Where the Truth Lies" (4:49) (9/10); "Confectioner's Curse" (3:02) (8/10); "Entropy of the Century" (2:52) (8/10); "Welcome to the Solar Flares" (3:03) (8/10), and; "The Unknowable" (6:26) (8/10).

THE BLUE SHIP The Executioner's Tale

UNIVERS ZERO Phosphorescence

SWANS To Be Kind


This music would probably be very entertaining to see live--kind of like a Sweeny Todd barrel house Broadway musical--but I'm not sure how progressive this is. I guess it's not unlike the work of Humble Grumble or Nemo or even UneXpect, but, I'm unconvinced. More like DeVotchka (which is a great band but not a prog band), or THE CURE in their early years, with a kind of LEONARD COHEN/LON CHANEY as its lead singer (And DIDO for its female counterpart). While there are certainly rock and even prog elements and influences to make this creation what it is, the result, to my ears, is still little more than the recording of a Broadway play. Or the next Rocky Horror Picture Show (which, again, is not considered a prog album.) Interesting how this kind of Euro-creep soundtrack music is creeping more and more into modern progressive rock. Atomic Ape, Utopianisti, Pingvorinkestern, and Major Parkinson are four that I've discovered so far. All very talented, very tight, very entertaining. No epics or smooth, slow developing songs. All staccato, stop and start, avant-garde and theatric. Humble Grumble, UneXpect, It's as if today's bands are trying to pack nine minutes of music, story, and emotion into four minute songs. Is this the new 

Favorite songs: "Beaks of Benevola" (4:27) (10/10), "Impermanence" (4:25) (9/10), and the title song (5:44) (8/10).

Cool stuff, lively and entertaining, but not anything I'll come back to--nor deserving, IMO, of a place here on PA.

SLEEPMAKESWAVES Love of Cartography

I've been listening to this one for a while. I've been having trouble pinpointing just what it is that makes me like this album less than their previous release, 2011's ...and so we destroyed everything, which I love. I think I've finally got it.
     Most of the sounds and weaves used in the songs of Love of Cartography are far simpler, far more melody-oriented and less filled with the subtle keyboard and computer generated "layers" beneath and between the main chords and melodies of. The songs on Love of Cartography fall too easily into the bin of "Post Rock for the masses", whereas those of ...and so we destroyed everything each possessed so many delightfully unexpected twists and turns to keep me fully engaged throughout. The band's intimate and idiosyncratic touch to each song of ..and so we destroyed everything was so magical and so interesting that I feel that I could practically feel the joy and enthusiasm these guys were having in the recording and mixing rooms while making that album. I do not feel the same transferral of energy here. As a matter of fact, I feel myself 'tuning out' at some point during almost every song of Love of Cartography. The guitar chords are strummed more aggressively, played with more distortion, and recorded more loudly, and they feel more rehearsed and more methodical, less free-wheeling and spontaneous. Also, what were subtly layered beneath and within the mix before are now right up front and in your face. I can still feel emotion--especially in the solos, but everything else feels so . . . 'by the book.' Are the band members focusing more on composition and the mental side of their music--trying to produce a "perfect, polished" album?
     Is this just an example of the dreaded "sophomore slump" or is this the more mature band exhibiting the "true" direction that they'd like their music to take? Don't get me wrong, this is a collection of fine song. They are incredibly well produced, but they come straight at you more in the vein of a band like MASERATI than that of a synth-generated GYBE as their previous album had exhibited (at least, potentially).
     While ...and so we destroyed everything felt new and fresh--like a new great hope for the potentially for growth and 'progress' within the Post Rock subgenre, Love of Cartography feels like good ole Post Rock. Nice stuff for Post Rock enthusiasts. Nothing very new or exciting for the rest of the world.

Favorite songs:  the gentle trip-hoppy-turns-rock anthem 10. "Your Time Will Come Again" (8:56); the gorgeous yet simple melodies of 9. "Something Like Avalanches" (5:30); the PINK FLOYD- and MASERATI-influenced 4. "Emergent" (8:28); the straight on power of 2. "Traced in Constellations" (4:37), and; 5. "Great Northern" (4:58).
3.5 star effort rounded down for disappointment factor.

MONO Rays of Darkness

Companion release to The Last DawnRays of Darkness is really, at 35 minutes in length, almost an EP—though in 1960-70 time it qualifies as a full album. This album is by all admissions and intentions a much darker, more depressing album than its companion. 

1. “Recoil, Ignite” (13:19) unfortunately for these ears, contains a very James Bond-like theme in the main melody of its first section (first seven minutes) which, at this pace and in this style, just doesn’t work for me. The theme gets reconfigured a bit, enough, for the middle section to make the experience somewhat better, but this one still never gets inside me and grabs me. And then the ‘Bond theme’ returns around 9:30 to spoil it all for me again. The heavier eleventh and twelfth minute also do more to distract me with thoughts of The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life” or “She’s So Heavy” and other stuff. (7/10)

2. “Surrender” (7:41) suffers from identity issues—it never seems sure of who or what it is and/or where it wants to go. I love the presence of the trumpet/horns holding part of the harmonic weave, but, again, it just never seems to establish itself, never seems to gel or congeal. (Maybe that is the point: dis-integration, distress and dis-function.) Disturbing and unsettling. Thanks, Jacob Valenzuela, for the first trumpet in the final two minutes—which stands sadly alone for a spell. (8/10)

3. “The Hand That Holds the Truth” (7:44) has become renowned for the presence of a vocal (Tetsu Fukagawa’s death metal growls). The YouTube video of this is quite entertaining and enlightening as to the group’s individual contributions as bassist/pianist Tamaki Kunishi-Yuasa dons an electric guitar to help produce the three-part weave that forms the second part of this three-part song (intro, weave-building, and climactic main explosion). (8/10)

4. “The Last Rays” (6:39) is an exercise in noise from distortion and atonal string plays. Again, if the theme of this album is the end of the world, then all of the compositions here make perfect sense. What surprises me is the dispassionate, detached feeling of the music—and this from a band that usually seems SO invested in the emotional impact of their songs! Maybe to them the end of the world is so matter-of-fact, such a foregone conclusion that they have decided to present it like this as an exercise in detachment. I commend them for their efforts but have to admit that I much prefer the impassioned efforts of albums like ULVER’s Shadows of the Sun or Nikitas Kissonas’ Suiciety to represent a sad goodbye to human dominion over the planet.

A good album that is better intellectually—especially when considering the tough subject matter.