Psych and Prog

Camel “Moonmadness” (1976)

After something of a detour in the all-instrumental Snow Goose, with Moonmadness Camel deliver a song oriented but no less progressive album that houses a faultless set exhibiting their impossibly relaxed and warm sound operating at a peak, as in the dual nature of “Song Within A Song” or the floating “Air Born,” songs which are comfortable, focused, and confident in their identity. Andy Latimer really steps to the front with a zen-like, effortlessly expressive guitar style that melts stone with it’s sheer beauty, fingers connected to the heart as well as the head, be it on softer passages such as in “Chord Change” or the full-bodied howling that closes “Another Night,” while the instrumental finale “Lunar Sea” simply blows the doors down with it’s twisting interplay and powerful lead work. One cannot discount the contribution of the rest of the band as well, Bardens with his most colorful pallet of synthesizer sounds, Ferguson and Ward totally in tandem, laying down syncopated grooves that help drive this one to the top of the heap. Moonmadness is an ideal place to start a Camel journey, not just in the merit of the individual songs but in the fact that Camel’s essence is so tangible here, looking forward or backward in their discography there’s a bit of Moonmadness everywhere. —Ben

Steve Hillage “Fish Rising” (1975)

Perfect fusion of the spacey Canterbury progressive jazz-rock typical of bands like Khan, National Health and Gong with a distinctive focus on Hillage’s ridiculous guitar skills. It takes a few minutes to warm up, but goddamn this album is like a gloriously hypnotic 40+ minute guitar solo. Don’t be mistaken, though–there’s a fair helping of pop sensibility, a little songcraft and some good vocals (provided you enjoy Hillage’s voice). This album has become an all-time personal favorite of mine, and unfortunately I think it’s unmatched in Hillage’s discography–his more song-oriented later albums feature some excellent guitar playing and some interesting ideas, but they’re often bogged down by less endearing new-agey lyrics, some of the guitar ideas start to reappear over and over, and the synths have dated in a way that’s much less attractive to my ears than this album (which, to be fair, is obviously from the mid-70’s). Love the inclusion of David L. Stewart and Lindsay Cooper–a couple of my favorite other Canterbury luminaries. Heavily recommended. —Elliot

Country Joe & The Fish “Electric Music for the Mind & Body” (1967)

Electric Music is perhaps the greatest psychedelic album of all time. Different aspects of the psychedelic experience are represented here from the crazed caotic energy of “Superbird”, the deeply meditative and stoned “Bass Strings”, the soulfully flowing “Section 43”, to the sheer fun of this album. During a psychedelic experience, one is often able to percieve or rather hear colors in music. Electric music is replete with them and examples can be found on the organ solo of “Love” to Barry Melton’s guitar solo on “The Masked Marauder”. The mix of different tones on this album has been seldom paralled especially in the digital ninties. Chicken Hirsh’s resonant tom tom drums, Bruce Barthol’s rich bass, David Cohen milky organ and Barry Melton’s guitar provide a nice rich timbre palete throughout the album particular evident on the instrumentals “Section 43” and “The! Masked Marauder”. Barry Melton’s vocals on “Love” sound like Satchmo on acid and add to the fun of this masterpiece. Country Joe once told me that the songs were arranged so that you would forget the tune you just hear before the one you were hearing. He also said that the band “tested” the album out themselves. Now if that’s not quality control I don’t know what is. An analog masterpiece for those curious to know what music sounded like before the digital age. A high recommend! —AC

Exuma “Exuma” (1970)

“The sun is shining in the night, zombies walking in broad daylight.”

Raw, vital and insane. The two keys here are the percussive intensity and the raging voice of the man himself, fiery and out of control, clearly lending another dimension of chaos to his music. The lyrics are quite inspired as well, with zombies, swamps, Xangô, voodoo and pyres sharing breathing room in a notably vivid fashion. More surprisingly is that despite all the insanity and tribal incantations this isn’t really as inaccessible as it could be, Exuma’s vocals even reach for soulfulness on occassion (tha last couple of tracks mosty). Or am I sliding so further down the ladder of musical archeology that I’m simply unfazed by the deranged world of Exuma? Who knows. It’s a fabulous album in any case. Let me spin the magnificent “Mama Loi, Papa Loi” one more time.

“I see fire in the dead man’s eye.” —Johnny

Gong “Flying Teapot” (1973)

Radio Gnome Invisible Part 1: Flying Teapot Is one of the first albums I ever owned. I think it may be the first but I’m not sure when I got ‘Mickey’s Disney Disco Album’. When I was about three my parents split up. My mother went to live with her pot-smoking, bi-sexual, bohemian German friend. I loved the cover of this album so much that the aforementioned mental German let me keep it. I grew up in a house where the love of music was almost compulsary. You had a choice. Either you learned to love music or you went insane because music was always being played. Not one for being left out I would request that I got to choose the music that was played. Naturally I would choose one of my own albums. At the age of four that was a limited choice. More often than not I chose Gong.

The fact that this album is such a mentalist freak out of pyschedelic-jazz-funk explains a lot about my taste in music now. This album is brimming with ideas. Some are crazier than others and some are so funky that it’s hard to believe that Gong are essentially a Franco-British prog outfit.

I can remember the beginning of the title track of the album terrifying me. It’s strange that at such a tender age we can interpret mood from music. I used to have to get my mother to skip the intro so that the partying could start. From about 2:30 that track is doing hard work to make you dance. I’m surprised nobody has ever sampled it. As well as being exceptionally funky this track (as the whole album is, really) is bat-shit crazy. The main vocal refrain seems to be “have a cup of tea, have another one, have a cup of tea”. Not what you expect as a funky accompaniment. Even more strange is that it fits right in.

Don’t let me fool you though. This is not a Jamiroquai album. There are moments that JK would gladly pilfer into more Ferrari purchase and blonde women but they are surrounded by large swathes of proggish wig-out. These surreal sections will certainly not be to everybody’s taste. If you like funk and early Pink Floyd you’ll be fine but if you don’t I’d steer well clear of this unless you are a sonic crusader of the more adventurous kind.

You can practically hear the LSD dripping off of every not and beat on this album. More importantly (and much less clichéd) is that you can hear the sounds enjoyment and vital experimentation bristling and crackling all through this album. It’s quite wonderful. —geekandspell

Neu! “Neu!” (1972)

Rock as ambience, stripped of song but retaining the simplicity of a good hook, Neu! marks the meeting point of acid-dazed psychedelic improv and post-classical minimalist composition. “Hallogallo” and “Negativland” are this album’s supreme achievements: the former synonymous with the now oft-used rhythmic term motorik, the latter combining this metronomic minimalism with a jarring musique concrete that incorporates industrial noise, transforming the group’s dreamlike drone into something more tonally consistent with a nightmare and anticipating everything from Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures to Scott Walker’s Tilt. In between these two highlights is the cymbal-drone experiment of “Sonderangebot,” the hazy, beautiful ballad-like “Weissensee” (which in a way anticipates the minimal, atmospheric post-punk of albums such as Seventeen Seconds by the Cure), and “Im Gluck,” whose studio-simulated rippling water is both restive and unsettling. The closing track, “Lieber Honig,” is an odd shift in tone that introduces fragile vocals and arguably constitutes the one misstep—though that depends on your mood. And mood is the crucial element to appreciating this album to its fullest. The group’s use of the studio to create a unique space in which to listen is what is most impressive about Neu! The spatial organization of the instruments gives breathing room in which the attention is allowed to drift from one part to another, actively constructing the sound of the whole and making for a different listening experience each time.

Obviously one of those proverbial albums that sold next to nothing but inspired those who heard it to make their own records, this also bears influence throughout the music since, its unique spell cast over just about everything good that followed it. —Will

Nick Mason “Fictitious Sports” (1981)

One of the best Pink Floyd solo albums, but it’s not really fair to characterize it as such as it’s really a Carla Bley album that Mason agreed to put his name on in the hope of shifting more copies. (We can see how well that worked! Maybe if they had thrown a flying pig on…)

Anyway, it’s a superb record, and considering Wyatt was in sort of semi-retirement at the time this was recorded (he did very, very little between the ’75 Henry Cow gigs and the Rough Trade singles that formed the basis of “Nothing Can Stop Us”) it’s a great pleasure to hear his voice on the majority of the album. “I’m A Mineralist”, a simultaneous parody of sexual perversion and Philip Glass, is often cited as the highlight and indeed it is a very good song, but there’s honestly not anything bad on tap anywhere. Recommended to Wyatt and Bley fans. For anyone buying this hoping to hear some of the excitement and thrills of “The Grand Vizier’s Garden Party”… WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU? —David

Bill Cosby “Badfoot Brown & The Bunions Bradford Funeral Marching Band” (1970)

Believe it or not, this ultra-obscure 35-minute shot of heady psychedelic jazz-funk came from the mind and soul of Bill Cosby. Yes, THAT Bill Cosby!

A crate-digger’s delight, the album was originally released in 1971 and features two extended tracks (“Martin’s Funeral” and “Hybish Shybish”) the album does a remarkable job of bringing to musical life the tense, tumultuous, but ultimately invigorating era in which it was recorded. Cosby is no slouch on the keys; and though he is galaxies away from the man, the comedian’s bursts of electric piano at times recall Sun Ra. An oddity given its association with Cosby, the album remains an excellent slab of heavy, spaced-out jazz funk and will be of interest to any fan of the style.

Van der Graaf Generator “Pawn Hearts” (1971)

Here’s a band operating on their own plateau, located in the center of a triangle formed by King Crimson, Pink Floyd, and the sacrificial altar of Crom, Pawn Hearts is not so much three distinct tracks as one elongated inner monologue of madness courtesy of Peter Hammill and company. While there’s those who would portray dementia through scatterbrained ramblings, Pawn Hearts is all the more harrowing and impressive in it’s focus and lucidity, it’s makeup of dense keyboards and saxophone sounding both ancient and timeless, with Hammill’s overwrought expression giving the proceedings an air of theatricality without resorting to parody. If at times the journey through these catacombs winds up at a dead end, particularly during moments of the side-long “A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers,” there are too many glorious moments here to ignore, and the lack of reliance on stock prog-isms set this one apart. —Ben

Arthur Brown & Craig Leon “The Complete Tapes of Atoya” (1984)

A high-level head-scratcher in the best of ways, The Complete Tapes of Atoya is one of those records that defies reason by it’s very existence.  As confounding a pair-up as it reads on paper, it’s still somewhat hard to believe that a record featuring these two forces (yes, Crazy World Of Arthur Brown Arthur Brown) would go un-noted to the extent it has.  Although Craig Leon may not signify as a household name, he was a significant figure in the development of the NYC punk and new wave scene of the mid-late ’70’s and beyond, working A&R and producing for Sire Records – bringing the Ramones, Blondie, Richard Hell, and Suicide to the label and working on all of the aforementioned classic debuts.

Recorded in ’81 Atoya sat unreleased for three years – not that it made a difference.  It’s doubtful the world was more prepared for this in 1984 than it was three years earlier.  Working a musical program of what would now be termed “minimal synth,” Leon’s stark synth and drum machine backdrops resemble the early output of Cabaret Voltaire or Depeche Mode, even flying close to Human League levels of anthemic pop with the jubilant “Strange Romance”.  On top of it all perches the inimitable Arthur Brown, eccentric and wound up as ever, holding forth with formidable accent on the big issues: dinosaurs, big guns, and the King of England.  Perhaps best of all, and worth the price of admission alone, is what could be the definitive swipe at the Diddley/Holly chestnut “Not Fade Away”.  Many have thrown their ring in the hat with this standard, but no one has ever quite done it this way.  Sounding more than a bit like Suicide, the skeletal, mechanical funk boils all of the swagger out of the song, save for Brown’s straining, leg-caught-in-beartrap howl, rivaling Devo’s wry covers of “Satisfaction” or “Working In A Coalmine” in terms of visionary, bizarre re-animation.  A record who’s time it feels, may have finally come. —Jonathan Treneff

Genesis “A Trick of the Tail” (1976)

If Genesis is, at best, a guilty pleasure (and I’m not necessarily implying they are), what to make of post-Peter-Gabriel-Genesis? And if they’re not a guilty pleasure (and I’m not fully prepared to say they aren’t), but rather, with Gabriel at the helm, the Most Wonderfulest Group on God’s Grey Earth—what happens to the listener who says A Trick of the Tail is probably nearly almost just about as good as Selling England by the Pound? Shall he be drawn and quartered?

With more emphasis on rhythm, due to less cluttered production and willful eccentricity, the group seems to hit their stride as a (relatively) straightforward rock outfit following the departure of resident eccentric Peter Gabriel. The emergence of Phil’s drums are just the refreshing advance that was needed after all that murky “orchestration;” but the orchestration on this album’s predecessor leaves a lot to be desired on this weird crossover, an album that mines territory similar to Lamb’s predecessor, Selling England by the Pound, but lacks the structural inventiveness and the skewed cinematic sense the group had captured on the latter and the aforementioned follow-up, an unwieldy but frequently incredible record.

For those who entirely discount post-Gabriel Genesis, much of this (and its successor, for that matter) are pretty solid. Arguably not up to the standard of anything that came before, but, trading in some of the “drama” for a stronger attack and a little much-needed directness, this stuff is pretty, and mostly pretty compelling. Phil Collins haters be damned! –Will

Kaleidoscope “Side Trips” (1967)

Wildly eclectic mixture of Psychedelia, Mid Eastern music, Appalachian Folk, jug band, hokey jump blues and undefinable weirdness that could only have come from the 60’s California music scene. The original 10 song album is only 26 minutes long, yet it goes through such a wide variety of styles that it really does feel like a full listening experience. Best tracks are the Mid Eastern opening track “Egyptian Gardens”, the very psychedelic antiwar song “Keep Your Mind Open” and that cheery little Appalachian folk ditty “Oh Death” (lately best known from the more traditional, dirge-like rendition on the hit soundtrack to Oh Brother Where Art Thou). There’s also an oddly faithful cover of “Minnie The Moocher”. —Flaregun