Tagged: progressive rock

MacArthur’s Lark

macarthur

Here’s another reissue obscurity from Out-Sider Music, the Spanish offshoot of Guerssen, whose other offshoot Mental Experience brought us the reissues of Circles and Red Square. MacArthur (OSR044) was made by an American band in the late 1970s and described here as a “US basement psych-prog monster”. I understand why these reissue labels feel the need to hype everything they put out, but this is such a mediocre example of 1970s American rock that I find this hyperbole hard to swallow. Apart from some quite good flashes of accomplished lead guitar work, this whole album is an undistinguished piece of work, with lame songs, poor vocals, and a heavy-handed rhythm section.

MacArthur are sold to us as a form of progressive rock or psychedelic rock, but for the most part they resemble a third-rate version of Kansas, Boston, or Foghat. A charitable listener might find consonances between album opener ‘Light Up’ and the early work of Focus (it comes within an ace of turning into ‘Sylvia’), and ‘The Black Forest’ is a Flamenco-tinged instrumental that vaguely suggests sword-and-sorcery themes drawn from the well of Led Zeppelin IV. On ‘Prelude No 1 in C Major’, the guitarist indulges his skill for baroque classical guitar, and ‘The Shock Of The New’ is a showcase for ELP-styled pyrotechnics with speedy acoustic piano licks followed by Euro-prog moog solo excess. But MacArthur’s real passion is for playing power ballads, with unexceptional time signatures and unemotive vocals from the lead singer, and this material is what characterises most of the album. It’s quite some way from being “underground” as I would understand it; it seems more plausible that MacArthur had their sights set on finding their way into the AOR charts and FM radio play. Unfortunate timing for them, given that MTV was just about to dawn, resulting in significant changes to the market and audience they were seeking for their music.

The story of it is that MacArthur recorded the album at home in 1979, on a four-track machine. There are other, less credible, stories that say it was recorded in 1973 and released in 1974, but this is probably just wishful thinking. The creative nexus is songwriter Ben MacArthur and instrumentalist-arranger Bill Heffelfinger, who met in Saginaw in Michigan. Heffelfinger seems to be the main creative powerhouse; he arranged the songs and produced the album, the guitar and keyboard solos are all his, and so are what the press notes describe as “mini-moog analog synth attacks”.

The resulting album was a private-press release, comprising 200 copies (or 500; again, there are conflicting stories about this detail). It appeared in a very plain sleeve; the label is at pains to tell us the lengths they have gone to restore the “embossed letters” which appear on the LP version of this release, sparing no expense to represent the band’s original intention. Before this official release, there was a bootleg version circulating with a rather attractive collage cover, retitled The Black Forest, a release which may well have been the source of the wrong dates and other misinformation. Even that bootleg is rare, which persuades me that there are some vinyl collectors who will chase after anything provided it’s obscure enough, regardless of the quality of the music. Guerrsen and Out-Sider have been “reissuing rare and obscure psychedelic, progressive, folk and garage albums from the 60s to early 80s” now since 2010, arguably picking up the torch from other dubious labels who do likewise, such as Akarma, Radioactive Records, and Phoenix.

MacArthur is a very mixed bag and extremely uneven album which I can’t recommend, except as an odd period piece. From 16th April 2016.

The Hills Have Eyes

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Kosmose
Kosmic Music From The Black Country
BELGIUM SUB ROSA SR394 2 x CD (2015)

This double-CD release rounds up all known private recordings of Kosmose, a lesser-known Belgian band who made their own form of free-improvised cosmic music in the 1970s. Some of its members may be known to you through later Belgian bands: for instance the keyboard player Alain Neffe and the drummer Guy-Marc Hinant went on to form Pseudo Code in the 1980s, whose work has crossed our path very tangentially; and Neffe went on to create the Insane Music cassette label, home to all sorts of unfathomably strange Belgian art music (often involving his own contributions), by I Scream, Human Flesh, Cortex, Bene Gesserit, and others – and at least 25 volumes of the series Insane Music for Insane People. But before that, there was a band called SIC founded in 1969, just at the dog-end of the hippy culture’s height, which was led by Kosmose’s bass guitarist, Francis Pourcel and the guitarist Daniel Malempré. SIC grew into Kosmose as more members joined, including Alain Neffe, and “attempts at home-made and experimental music” were made in 1971. However, what’s represented here is 11 tracks of free-form trippery from 1974 to 1978, made on an open-reel tape recorder; and most of the music is performed by the core trio of Pourcel, Hinant and Neffe, with occasional guitar solos from Malempré or Paul Kutzner when present; however, Kosmose want to stress they were a collective and had “no specific leader”.

The label proposes this music was consciously influenced by Kosmische Musik from Germany and evolved into “a purely improvised form of noisy free jazz”. I found it heavy going. Despite some moments where the combo manage to lift themselves off the ground, the music trudges and plods where we’d prefer it to soar in the air and glide through outer space. There are superficial resemblances to Gong, Pink Floyd, and Tangerine Dream, which unfortunately only serve to remind us how much better these commercially-successful bands did it. Kosmose’s improvisations are rather dull, staying in the same key for long stretches of time, and the lead instrumentalist generally struggles to find an original or unexpected statement that might lift the band out of their self-made quagmire. The sound of the band has few surprises, too; the guitars, bass and drums sound much the same as many other workaday third-division prog clumpers from the period, and Neffe’s unimaginative use of strings organ and synthesiser routinely fails to provide any excitement to the music. The comparisons to improvisation and free jazz don’t really stand up; there is little evidence that Kosmose understand extended technique, or were aware any of the adventurous ground-breaking work that was done in UK improvisation in the mid-1970s. Terms like “improvised” and “free jazz” are used carelessly these days. The most we can say for Kosmose is that they shared a collaborative form of playing open-ended rock music that didn’t depend on rehearsals or charts or 12-bar boogie.

The “Black Country” of the subtitle refers to Charleroi, a municipality of Belgium where the band originated, and from which they didn’t budge; the dozen or so concerts Kosmose played did not venture outside the Charleroi area. It used to be a thriving city of heavy industry, called the Black Country because of the coal basin, and the workers produced steel, metal and glass; but these industries were starting to fail in the 1970s, leading to economic depression, unemployment and crime in the 1980s and 1990s. The parallels with my own country’s coal industry (and that of others) are sadly all too apparent. However, if members of Kosmose felt any disaffection or political unrest, it’s certainly not reflected in their music, which is solipsistic to the point of being vacuous. None of the tunes have any titles, and they are pretty much vague abstractions, whose central purpose is about the band burrowing into themselves, taking comfort in the warmth of meaningless free noodling. I would say this attitude is clearly shown in the sleeve notes which contain many paragraphs of reminiscences by the band members; but what they talk about is how they rehearsed, played, interacted with each other, speaking of “a silent form of alchemy made its way through our music-playing bodies”, and similar guff. I’d like to learn more about how (if) they assimilated and learned from the music culture of the 1970s, but that is not discussed in much detail; they appear to have absorbed it all by osmosis, and then spent their musical career feeding off each other. They never signed with a label and never had a record released.

Not unpleasant to listen to, nor do I begrudge them two CDs of materials – they clearly needed 18-minute sprawling jam sessions just to get warmed up. But the stunted ambitions of this group don’t make for a rewarding spin. A rather disappointing set of flabby, introspective music by not very distinguished musicians. From 31 December 2015.

Traces of Whom

Carlo Costa Quartet

Carlo Costa Quartet
Sediment
USA NEITHER NOR RECORDS n/n 001 CD (2015)

With a name that conjures up moustachioed Latin jazz, the Carlo Costa Quartet’s slithering, metallic drums and drones could scarcely be a more surprising or unsettling encounter for someone in search of a smiley pick up. This inadvertently red herring is the sole sign of humour in a musical statement that sups the lifeblood of the atonally inclined likes of AMM and Gruppo di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza, squeezing out six sides of stark, teeth-rattling improvisation at a painful grind that leaves Bohren und der Club of Gore looking like Slayer.

While boasting fairly conventional instrumentation, the quartet (led by percussionist Costa, with Jonathon Moritz on tenor/alto sax, Steve Swell on trombone and Sean Ali on double bass) does a splendid job of subsuming all humanity into a nightmarish, metallic pulp, pricked by instruments played pointillistically or ground together into a grim, black sediment. Tension is back-of-the-neck; the brittle barrage of bows, breaths, scrapes and bangs somehow providing panoramic possibility thanks to musicians who know every inch of their instruments and their potential for an unsettling sonic range. Were it not for the availability of video footage of their conventional live set up one could easily envisage musical athletes powering through a set grounded by super-gravity. Rather, a lights-out policy would be preferable, that listener imaginations could be free to speculate on this music’s unwholesome origins.

vestigium

Julie Tippetts & Martin Archer
Vestigium
UK DISCUS 48CD 2 x CD (2015)

Truly confounding my ability to describe is the fluid-formed fourth phase of the ongoing collaboration between versatile ‘jazz’ vocalist Julie Tippetts and multi-faceted composer/instrumentalist Martin Archer; a sprawling double album of proggish jazz fusion that provides solid evidence that not only is their partnership producing increasingly healthy rumination matter, but also that we listeners would be foolish to scoff at Archer’s vaunted ambition for it to take its rightful place in the Canterbury music canon, alongside Soft Machine’s Third, Centipede’s Septober Energy and suchlike. His word is good enough for me, for as I attempt to make sense of this peerless undertaking – every listen prompting a revised description – I feel as though my every effort to make sense of it is a disservice.

This owes in part to the shifting oneiric narrative that binds together this eclectic assemblage of almost wandering instrumental textures and oft stretched-to-breaking-point vocals that issue from the barely-being phase between sleep and consciousness, with correspondingly smouldering, stream-of-consciousness lyrics that walk the line between somniloquy (‘Disappeared Mountain’) and free association (‘Soliciting Crabs’), only occasionally exiting the cocoon of slumber to register a presence bold and dynamic enough to cause the collapse of the whole song structure itself when fever pitch hits (the explosive ‘Firefly’ and closer ‘Stalking the Vision’). Julie Tippetts’ early career as a folk singer is as well-documented as it is redundant here, as are occasional comparisons to Scott Walker for his similar metamorphosis. If anything, Talk Talk’s Mark Hollis supplies a more suitable comparison, his once melancholic register but a hazy memory in that group’s post-rock-y finale Laughing Stock – a destination quite reminiscent of this album – and his more bare-bones solo follow-up.

Equally intangible are Archer’s spidery, Sun Ra-esque keyboard and woodwind lines, which lurk innocuously while somehow holding together the parts of up to eleven top-shelf musicians, as well as a number of viscous, distorted electronic/acoustic backdrops. Such light-handedness corresponds to the sleeve image of a footprint in sand: an ephemeral dream image of identity eroding and provisional in the passing of time, yet rendered permanent through the agency of the subconscious. This harmony of oppositions is maintained for as long as no attempt to interfere or resolve matters into repeated rhythm is honoured. Any narrative tendency (the Lewis Carroll-inspired ‘Like Alice’ for instance) is incidental as this musical ooze assumes and relinquishes form without attachment. It is exquisite, and if Tippetts and Archer are to continue building on this standard, then we have much to look forward to.

Stained Glass Hearts

Larkspurs

Larkspurs
Larkspurs
USA NO LABEL CD (2015)

Apart from Oho-offshoot El Sledge (+), White Boy and Tangerine Dream during their last days, a parent/sibling combination in a band still remains a fairly rare occurrence. Another addition to this select group is the father/daughter team of Jess Srogoncik (guitar/bouzouki/theremin) and violinist Alexis Ronstadt who, along with drummer Nick Vega and Emily Schalick (bass) comprise baroque psychesters Larkspurs.

Youth and experience in one package as Jess has a pretty interesting past as a member of Majora recording artists Paris 1942. An outfit known for having Moe Tucker, late of the Velvets, in its ranks – and also being the first port of call (or thereabouts) for future members of the Meat Puppets and the Sun City Girls. In fact, S.C.G.’s Alan Bishop gets a ‘thank you’ in the sleeve notes.

Under the intriguing banner of an art nouveau Bodhisattva (take a bow Christopher Kelm!), this Phoenix, Arizona-based quartet deploys, alongside the Buck Dharma’ed leads of her father, classically-trained Alexis as one of its principal voices in this eight-strong collection of darkly-veiled instrumental pieces. Her poignantly lyrical bowmanship finding echoes in the works of King Crimson’s David Cross and the real creative force behind early Pavlov’s Dog: Sigfried Carver.

Bolstered by supple/rippling bass strings that compliment a dynamic yet measured percussive drive, these ‘live-in-the-studio’ recordings go from a whisper (the chamberesque “Il Gatto Alla Soglia”) to the powerful quasi-prog scream of “Surveillance” with its relentless Crimsonoid (them again!!) six-string/violin lines, to the sublime Arabian filligree that insinuates itself into “Saharan Crepuscule”, a track which transplants an American twang onto Groups Doueh and Interane.

This release shows that this particular East/West baton (in the charge of Tucson, Arizona’s Black Sun Ensemble for some time) has now been passed on after all.

Fear and Confusion

007

Got a lot of time for this unusual album from Greece – Yenesis (NEGATIVE POSITIVE) by the seven-piece line-up Zenerik, who characterise their work as “progressive-jazz-psychedelic-folk”. We received a CDR version from Dimitris Karytsiotis in Athens who released two vinyl editions – one of them in white vinyl – on his own Positive/Negative label in June 2015. (He also runs an online record store, Vinyl Kiosk.) After I played it on the radio and responded with my usual excess of enthusiasm, those involved kindly sent me a vinyl edition and CD pressing too. The talented seven players here perform using a mix of rock and jazz instrumentation, woodwinds and electric guitars competing fiercely in the performance space alongside a percussion section that’s determined to hammer everything into the ground. Melodic snatches rub up alongside atonal noise; tuneful proggy instrumentals vie with scrabbly, abstract sections. There’s even a Moog synth player, nicknamed “Super Mario” from Ankh Productions, getting in on the act with quite menacing low-level growls and murmurings. If they want some imagery from Greek mythology, I’ve no hesitation in likening this band to the Hydra, that many-headed serpentine monster which featured so heavily in Herakles’ second labour. If Zenerik appear at times to be fighting among themselves, it’s a friendly brawl and always to great musical effect; the listener has several strands of competing information to decode, intertwined like strange strands of seaweed in a salty wine-dark sea.

The seven players don’t have much of a history that I can find, apart from Lina Fontara who has also recorded with Popi’s Orchestra. The assurance with which this record has been made is remarkable, and it carries a freshness and spontaneity that is highly enjoyable, along with its very clean recording sound. For these and many other reasons, it does feel old-fashioned in a good way, the same kind of straight-ahead production that you used to get on early 1970s prog albums, and it feels like Zenerik are productively revisiting the English jazz-rock agenda which enjoyed its brief flurry of success in the UK. For lovers of records which straddled the 1970s prog-jazz divide such as Keith Tippett’s Centipede, Indian Summer, or John Stevens’ Away, or even early versions of Henry Cow, this record will be most welcome, but this isn’t to say that Zenerik are self-consciously attempting to emulate progressive or psychedelic rock in the same “retro” manner that you find on Sulatron Records, for instance. There’s just a lot of musical craft, a love of playing together, and a refusal to attempt to “update” the sound for contemporary audiences.

It remains to mention the track titles, which are quite pointedly called ‘Fear’, ‘Confusion’, ‘Realization’, ‘Acceptance’ and ‘Deliverance’ – which can easily be read as the story of Greek’s unfortunate economic collapse in the so-called Eurozone crisis, although sadly it doesn’t look as if this poor abandoned country has yet reached the ‘Deliverance’ Stage. This political-economical critique is not explicitly embedded in the music, although ‘Confusion’ contains a lot of anger and dissonant wails, and the album opens with a 30-second babel of voices speaking international languages, possibly sampled from newscasts. A fine distinctive release; there are variant editions, including the CD which has a black cover. Arrived 24 June 2015.

Enfants Terribles

oiseaux

The album ÜTOPIYA? (SUB ROSA SR396) by French intellectual free-rocksters Oiseaux-Tempête is slowly growing on me, despite early spins where the veneer of “respectability” seemed to create barriers – too much in the way of polished production, portentous ideas, and pretentious lyrics. What I’m liking on today’s spin is the soggy, miserable atmosphere that blights every track – and it’s not just the minor keys in which the tunes are set, nor the empty bombast of the playing (especially the drumming), nor the narrow restrictions of the meagre constructions, the melodies which bind you in rather than set you free…there’s some deeper malaise, some severe disappointment at work here, a cynicism informing every gesture of these disaffected late-romantic decadent types, traipsing about in crushed velvet suits with their mouths full of moss and raw fish.

The core team seems to be Frédéric D. Oberland and Stéphane Pigneul – and Oberland is certainly the last person you’d expect to be leading a stoner / doom band, with his composerly and sound-art credentials, not to mention his porcelain moustache cup, and yet here he is slashing an axe with vigour, leaning on a mellotron until it collapses under the weight of his pallid hands, and supplying “dark energy” – the sort of idiotic credit that only the most posey musician would have the audacity to print on their album cover. Both he and Pigneul are members of two other bands which are probably great to hear, but look at those band names – FareWell Poetry and Le Réveil des Tropiques – both of ‘em steeped in ideas filched from post-Surrealist books of engravings and dismal prose, which abound in the flea markets of old Paris. Ben McConnell, their drummer, also can’t get over his own literary aspirations since he used to play in a band called Au Revoir Simone, and has also played with another self-regarding semi-goth type with long black hair, Marissa Nadler.

Even so…this album wins me over partly through addition of star player Gareth Davis with his bass clarinet, shining well for instance on the long third track where his instrument gives the “woody” flavour of pipe smoke and freshly-turned earth we all crave, and the whole enterprise starts to gel – at which point Oiseaux-Tempête perform like an intellectualised version of Isis with the addition of Lindsay Cooper. This is the third album the band have made for Sub Rosa, and it’s got something to do with their “existential turmoil” brought about in their hearts in response to the economic crisis in Greece. To further this concept, Frédéric D. Oberland has decorated just about every surface of this 8-panel digipak with his moody, arty, photographs – dogs, skulls, crabs, anything so long as it’s loaded with “significance”, and even depicts a capsized ship on the front cover, no doubt continuing his critique of the world banking crisis. Profound, non? Then there’s the track titles, each one aiming to be a mini-essay packed with resonances and mini-ideas, or else chapter headings to a turgid book of philosophy. ‘Portals Of Tomorrow’ is a classic in that regard, but how about ‘Someone Must Shout That We Will Build The Pyramids’?

In sum, this release may be slow, gloomy, impenetrable, and over-thought in a way only the French brain can manage, but musically it’s still a convincing stab hitting the heart where it hurts with its depressing, rain-sodden free-form stoner rock mixed with foreign / weird field recording elements and oh-so-graceful acoustic melodies. From May 2015.

The Wedding of Idiots: an introduction into the work of a major Soviet rock music performer

wedding

Yuri Morozov, The Wedding of Idiots / Svad’ba Kretinov, recorded 1974 – 1976, released 1977?

We first met Morozov last month with his electronic albums “The Inexplicable” and “Human Extinction”, both recorded in the late 1970s but never enjoying official public release in his native Soviet Union. Little did we know at the time that these two recordings were but the tip of a real (and not just proverbial) iceberg of a mass of work from 1971 right up to the time of his death (February 2006) with some, but not all, of the later albums of his last decade apparently being collections or re-recordings of earlier work. Morozov’s musical interests spanned almost the entire spectrum of pop and rock during this period but his inspirations appear to be grounded in the late 1960s psychedelic rock and folk scenes that dominated the music underground in the West. Morozov worked as both musician and studio all-rounder (sound engineering, production) in a recording studio in Leningrad (now St Petersburg) and his own home studio which he built himself, and played with several musicians and bands which later became famous in their own right in the Russian-language pop and rock music sphere.

Anyone wanting an introduction into the vast corpus of music created by Morozov should try listening to “The Wedding of Idiots” which he recorded in the mid-70s and whose cover art was designed by his wife Nina Morozova. The whole album spans the gamut of styles from arty psychedelic rock (Amon Duul II quickly comes to mind) to Slavic folk and, at the end, some ambient and melodic electronic experimentation. Certainly when you first start playing it, the work does sound much like Amon Duul II at their most surrealistic pastoral (“Konformist” and “Ne Znayu, za chto”) and then at their most madcap early 70s  “Yeti”-era psychedelic (“Kretin”); if anything, the songs sound even more like AD2 than the German band itself, which might be some compliment to Morozov – there’s playfulness galore and light-hearted experimentation that would take AD2’s collective breath away. Indeed, Morozov achieves with this album what AD2 failed to do with some of their later releases: highly catchy little pop and rock mini-classics with a bleached acid psychedelic sound and plenty of unusual cosmic noises and effects with little bombast.

The highlight of the album comes with the last track which starts off fairly conventionally with solo piano melody and high-pitched deranged singing but in its last half becomes completely unmoored and floats off into the far reaches of space with a cabaret recording and outer-space effects.

I admit I know nothing about the Russian-language rock music scene of the past 50 years or so but I can well believe this album made it into Russia’s top 50 classic rock recordings of all time because there is class all over it. Try it here at this Youtube link and judge for yourself!

The Inexplicable: a cheerful and lively recording of Soviet experimental rock fusion

Yuri Morozov2

Yuri Morozov, The Inexplicable, recorded 1978 but never officially released

Inexplicable all right, that this 1978 album and its 1979 follow-up “Human Extinction” were never officially released during their creator’s life-time and to this day still remain available mainly as fully uploaded recordings to Youtube.com. Very little information is available about Yuri Vasilyevich Morozov (1948 – 2006) apart from the fact that he played all instruments on the abovementioned albums and worked as a sound engineer as well as a composer and multi-instrumentalist. As far as I know, his legacy to experimental fusion music includes “The Inexplicable” and “Human Extinction” plus various other songs like “The Cherry Garden of Jimi Hendrix” which have also been uploaded to Youtube.

This record is a cheerful mix of electronic space music, musique concrete, electric guitar roar, balalaika tunes, psychedelia, jazz and whatever other popular music genres interested Morozov. With four of five tracks all on Side A and the fifth track taking up all of Side B, you can choose either to listen to the work the way Morozov intended or dive into the deep end and hear out Side B first as this is the track that more or less summarises Morozov’s eclectic approach. Side B has all the charms and faults of a long, very long track with not much internal consistency: it traipses where it will, its moods are very changeable and it is hostage to the limitations of the instruments Morozov was using. If Part 5 seems to lack a definite atmosphere and resembles an old 1960s space cartoon soundtrack in parts, that’s probably due in part to the age of the technology Morozov had to use. What ties the track together is the zest with which Morozov deploys his tools of the trade, and his willingness to push everything to its limits. An eager curiosity and exploratory spirit are very much in charge here. As a result, even though the music can sound a little bit dated at times, it is very much bursting with rude health.

The other four tracks are lively and bright: Morozov’s style really needs short tracks to express and explore his ideas and once all the possibilities behind these ideas have been explored, then the songs are done. Enthusiasm and energy do flag with a 15-minute track, especially one where there are silences between two strands of music and frequent breaks in the music as well.

Had he lived in another country or in an earlier or later time, Morozov might have been acknowledged as a significant musician and composer of avantgarde electronic fusion music – but his circumstances being what they were, he missed out on such recognition. The time is now overdue to give him his place in the sun. You can judge if Morozov and “The Inexplicable” are worthy of the honour by listening to the album at this Youtube link.

Worlds and Worlds / Sidereal Journey: voyages into a post-BM space power metal symphonic universe

Oxiplegatz, Worlds and Worlds / Sidereal Journey, Ormolycka, double cassette set (2014?)

I can only shudder at whatever possessed the Ormolycka label to reissue these two late-1990s albums by the Swedish one-man BM space opera act Oxiplegatz: a sure sense of the sublimely ridiculous and the ridiculously sublime must have played a huge part in the decision to re-release them. Oxiplegatz was headed by one space captain Alf Svensson who played all the instruments on both albums with help from his co-pilot / girlfriend / wife Sara.

When Ormolycka reissued these albums, the original sci-fi erotica artwork was included in the repackaging but minor fussy and obviously unnecessary details like the number of songs, the song titles and the names of the musicians, what they played and on which tracks were, uh, left out so I’ve treated both recordings as continuous works for this review. No matter – at least y’all get to read a holistically oriented review as opposed to a blow-by-bombastic-blow account. Generally the music is a madcap mix of speedy blast-beat programmed drumming, heavy rocking post-BM guitars, massive droning-hornet synthesisers, blaring synth brass horns and all the other demented accoutrements that keyboard-generated faux orchestras can offer, along with an array of vocal styles that slip back and forwards from black metal rasp to guttural death metal to girlie pop to mellow male lounge lizard crooning to Z-grade hit-n-miss operatic without warning or good reason as to why such styles of singing should appear when they do. Songs lurch about from one gritty power metal guitar riff or ersatz classical music melody to the next and one vocal style to the next – the album isn’t clear as to why Ms Svensson had to be roped in to sing since there are no duets in which male and female voices play protagonist and antagonist – so both albums come across as an overwhelming mess of loony pulp sci-fi fiction inspiration and pyrotechnical theatrics about extended voyages in outer space.

At least Alf Svensson is consistent as an all-round musician, composer and arranger: his skills in playing different musical genres across a broad range of instruments and studio recording equipment is top-notch, and his ability to co-ordinate the varying styles of black metal, death metal, power metal, hard rock, synth cheese, girlie pop, tuxedo’ed trilling and B-grade sci-fi soundtrack music into one flowing whole are so extraordinary as to be unbelievable, at least until you hear one of the albums.

“Sidereal Journey”, the later album, is a sonic improvement over “Worlds and Worlds”: with loads of black metal and death metal on offer plus moments of space ambient, the album has some genuine moments of creepy fear here and there. The more or less continuous musical landscape tapestry, stitched together from 30+ songs of 1-minute or so duration, has natural musical hills and dales galore (or peaks and troughs if you prefer) where you would expect to find them. Again the vocals are a hilarious mash-up of grim BM, gurgly DM and Eighties poodle-rock siren singing – though here the songs are starting to make some demands on Ms Svensson’s vocal range. A feature that was not present on “Worlds and Worlds” is Alf Svensson’s discovery of the vocoder to modify some of his clean baritone singing: this lifts the album to an even more hilarious level.

As with “Worlds and Worlds”, the music on “Sidereal Journey” is well done with some virtuoso lead guitar soloing and a heart-felt sense of drama that makes the whole insane excursion credible. Doomy moments add majesty to the kitsch space musical and space ambient effects bring slight shivers to the spine and a sense that not all here is cheddar cheesiness. While the Svenssons – they should have renamed themselves the Jetsons in honour of the old 1960s cartoon series about a family living in outer space – don’t take their abilities or their creation all that seriously, their earnest and straight-faced delivery and the album’s production save the Oxiplegatz starship enterprise from falling into a black hole.

What ultimately saves this double set from falling into outright kitsch bombast turns out to be a great deal: large injections of blackened DM impose some discipline as does a minimal and clean production. The Jetsons … oops, the Svenssons do not take themselves or their subject matter of Earthlings questing among the stars like Vikings in jet-packs, finding other planets to colonise, too seriously. There might be a satirical dig here at narratives (be they literary, cinematic or real life) of colonial conquest and subjugation of the aboriginals of conquered territories, and of the language, symbols and musics that accompany such narratives and mythologies.

Fun though these bizarre and deranged recordings are – “Sidereal Journey” just pips its predecessor as the better album as the music is even more fruitcake fey in its ambitions – there’s probably only so much of this kitsch space power metal opera symphonica a sane human can stomach and it’s perhaps no surprise that after these albums and a much earlier one, the Oxiplegatz crew hung up their alarmingly snug form-fitting space-suits, fish-bowl helmets and laser guns for good.

(PS: I think I may have spoken too soon as Alf Svensson is currently planning a fourth major opus with a stronger fantasy bent and a focus on classical music.)

Contact: Ormolycka

Neon Meate Dreams

Various Artists
Strange Fish One
Strange Fish Two
Strange Fish Three
Strange Fish Four

FRUITS DE MER RECORDS (2013)

With accompanying graphics showing the more colourful/gnarly denizens of the deep, comes the “Strange Fish” series of compilation L.P.s, which come courtesy of the Fruits de Mer imprint, no doubt spurred on by the success of their “Head Music” and “Roqueting through Space” collections. These four volumes are knee deep in moderne prog moves, ambience, cosmostronica and beyond and suggest that if you’re a Brain/Ohr camp follower, you’ll be clutching these to your bosom from the very get go. Hmmm, as for the strange fish content, I’d hope that instead of a uniform shoal of herring, I’d get something like the weird symbiotic relationship between consenting Angler fish, where after a brief moment of freedom, the teeny, tiny male becomes fused to the big ole head of the missus and eventually becomes part of her, relying on her for all the everyday bodily functions. So…something alien and outlandish is what I crave in strange fish…with bio-luminescence even!

So being presented with the entire recorded oeuvre of this project, it shouldn’t be unreasonable to think that as there’s forty-one tracks on offer, there should be plenty of scope for enquiring ears. Well…erm…the batting average doesn’t work out too badly, though I will admit to not going cock-a-hoop over the prospect of dipping a toe or two into ‘ambience’. Sanding down and rounding off the potential sharp edges of electronica smacks of some nutzoid health and safety initiative – designed for an oversafe/sanitized world. Brian Eno, what have you wrought with your One Brain?? (anag).

So onto the opening volume then and the it’s the least populated of the quartet with only two names on show, namely American synthesist Craig Padilla and Welsh space-progsters Sendelica. The former’s “Secret Language” and “Full Moon World” (initially used as a meditation soundtrack!), are expanded Arp-generated modulations that would certainly bring a roseate glow to the features of Edgar Froese. The latter’s “Strange Fish” finds a pot head pixie lurking in the back row of the annual end of term photo, holding well worn copies of “Angels Egg” and Nektar’s “Journey to the Centre of the Eye” under his spindly green arm.

Volume the second veers towards more conventional, nuts and bolts compositions, with a lion’s share centreing on the machinations of Russian prog. Vespero‘s “Red Machine” is an effective mix of extended far eastern six-string themes and wayward sequential squelch. The quasi-symphonics of Organic is Orgasmic‘s “At Dawn of Men” are brought down to earth with a resounding crash by a completely incongruous Kenny G-informed sax filligree. While The Grand Astoria rev up the ante a notch, energy-wise, with Coral electric sitar(?) attachments and fits snugly into the pantheon of worthy Russian progressives such as Gorizont and Sepsis.

For me, the penultimate volume is the most fully rounded segment. “The Vampire’s Kiss” suite from Fleetwood, Lancs’ favourite sons The Earthling Society is an immediate pleasure. The opening theme could so very easily grace the opening captions of an early seventies slice of weird t.v. like “Penda’s Fen” or “Escape into Night” The eventual nightmarish world of disembodied voices/found sound and murky throb reminding me of the spooky doings of Fish from Tahiti, whose black magicked audio was captured on the Sorted label some time back. Still with the U.K., and coming out of nowhere central, the very, very shadowy Vert:x. Their monomaniacal riff bluster on “Bad Calibration” and “Killer Beez” opens up a neon flickerbook of images crafted from finest Chrome, Neu and obligatory Hawkwind. Cast aside those headphones, turn it up and make those speakers vibrate! Other highpoints come from the Dead Pylons catalogue. This Hi-Fi Science offshoot occupy the darker facets of obscurist electonix with the Kluster-like “Osiris” being the very best pick of the bunch.

As for the closing volume… Hi-Fiction Science crop up again with four cuts from founder member James McKeown. His particular form of pastoral folkdelica, especially on “Euclid Dreaming” evoking the long forgotten beauty of Flying Saucer Attack’s splinter group Light and their standalone album “Turning”, (Wurlitzer Junction Records). The Canterbury duo Zenith:Unto the Stars‘ cloud-like synthed orchestrations put Erik Satie’s ‘Furniture Music’ concept into a weightless environment while Vox Humana’s “Shortwave Radio and The Ionosphere” sees Dylan Line (of the Soft-Hearted Scientists) crafting a Sylvian/Fripp-like opus witnessed through a particularly wobbly heat haze.

So as most of F.D.M’s produce sells out p.d.q. via the jungle telegraph and zine ads, their bread’s pretty much buttered at the mo’ Still, if they can put out a Simones’ seven incher, keep ambience levels low and introduce me to the joys of Vert:x and The Earthling Society, good luck to ’em says I.