Psych and Prog

Kaleidoscope “Tangerine Dream” (1967)

Kaleidoscope’s Tangerine Dream is just about the most perfect example of fairy tale psychedelia. A technicolor gem produced at the exact moment British psychedelia went for a full on overkill of whimsy. Silly tweeness abounds, in fact the childlike lyricism is exclusively of the strawberry monkeys / candy forests variety. It’s up to you to decide if that’s a realm you’d be interested in visiting. If you are, you’ll stumble upon one of the prettiest records of the 60’s, one filled with exceedingly well written pop songs and some mildly medieval-esque balladry. It’s been quite some time since I’ve found such a scrumptious album, such delicious, cuddly cuteness.

Kaleidoscope themselves (not to be confused with the American Kaleidoscope) were quite the talented band, with their flair for composition and execution making the songs positively sparkle. Peter Daltrey’s sweet voice, Eddie Pumer’s exquisite guitars and the many little details sprayed across all shine. The band’s first single, “Flight From Ashiya” is the skyscraping tale of a doomed flight where “Captain Simpson seems to be in a daze, one minute high and the next minute low, nobody knows where we are”; “Sky Children” and its dragons, candy forests or porcupine captains add another candy coated layer to the cake, “In the Room of Percussion” recalls a Byrds’ rumination, albeit with the unByrdslike line of “My God, the spiders are everywhere”. “The Murder of Lewis Tollani” brings darker subject matter afloat and a trippy post chorus bit, “Please Excuse My Face” is both minimal and adorable. Plus the opener “Kaleidoscope”, with its precious harmonies and playful keys could be British psych’s theme song. Truly a treat.  —JohnnyRead more›

Magic Carpet “Magic Carpet” (1972)

Mindblowing UK raga-psych that has all the right moves: Warm, stoned and fuzzy guitars, gentle tabla, soft acoustic passages, blissed-out sitar lines and simply wonderful female vocals. I cannot overstate how full-on psych this record is. From the opening lines of “The Phoenix” to the fade out of the final ‘trance’ raga, this one is a synapse burner. Totally far out, and gorgeous, too. Track it down if you are even remotely interested in Eastern folkpsych, you’ll be thrilled with it. —ChadRead more›

Pretty Things “Parachute” (1970)

While Parachute is less innovative than its predecessor, SF. Sorrow, it shows the Pretty Things at their most mature, lyrically and musically. It begins with a medley that stretches through the majority of side one, one that vaguely resembles the one on The Beatles’ Abbey Road. While it doesn’t reach the cathartic heights of that medley’s finale, it’s melodically stronger than it’s counterpart.

The noisy Scene One is a discomforting opener, with wild drumming that establishes a manic atmosphere. But then it goes away, and you get the peaceful beauty of The Good Mr. Square, which immediately makes it clear that the Pretty Things have improved melodically since their last album, and almost all of these songs boast strong melodies and breathtaking harmonies. Even better yet, they spin that melody into a lovely gospel song in She Was Tall, She Was High, and it’s interesting to see how, in the space of a minute in a half, the song builds up and falls with its soaring chorus Then we get the gorgeous in the Square, with a melody so great, that Radiohead decided to rip it off for Paranoid Android. The song also starts introduce the dichotomy of the city and the country that’s such a prominent theme in this album. Then we get a terrific rocker in the form of Miss Fay Regrets, with it’s fantastic riff, and almost schizophrenic lyrics, and Grass, one of the album’s highlights, with its brooding piano line, and it’s lovely rising melody. The song sounds like a less self-indulgent Pink Floyd with similar production values, only, not only does it predate that classic sound, it actually exceeds it, achieving it’s lovely atmosphere without the use of any of the sound effects Pink Floyd cherished.

As the album hurtles towards its end, we get She’s a Lover, another fantastic rocker, with its Phil May’s lovely falsetto chorus and surprising middle 8 After that, we get What’s the Use, which stuffs three different songs into less than two minutes. It’s a little confusing, and I sorta wish the three parts could’ve been developed more, because they’re all strong, but that’s all made up for with the title track, which is gorgeous beyond words, and features some of the best harmonies this side of the Beach Boys. And that build up, when the drums and piano join the guitar, has to be the most cathartic moment … Read more›

Robert Wyatt “Rock Bottom” (1974)

The strange and beautiful Rock Bottom has a remarkable story to tell reflected in its melancholy magic. It epitomizes the saying “every cloud has a silver lining” as, in the face of devastating adversity, the resilient Robert Wyatt finds a way to turn personal tragedy into universal triumph. No longer able to sit behind a drumkit [after a paralyzing accident] he uses the keyboard to realize a set of compositions he’d previously developed for his band. Wyatt had already displayed a weird originality on his first solo album End Of An Ear and here he reveals it once again in a completely new direction forced upon him by dire circumstances.

The whole album rests on a small number of simple ideas that might have been approached in a variety of ways but are expanded into fascinating keyboard excursions of ethereal beauty. The shimmering sound Wyatt refers to in his liner notes serves as a backdrop for guest musicians as eminent as Hugh Hopper, Mike Oldfield, Fred Frith and Richard Sinclair. The first two numbers, Sea Song and A Last Straw, are delicate dreamscapes but the lyrics are more poignant than could ever have been imagined. Wyatt sings it straight but can’t resist launching into his unique scat style (imitation of a trumpet) when he runs out of words, a style that helped set him apart from his contemporaries. The drone like quality of the music drifts slowly through the chord changes leaving plenty of space for touches of piano, bass and drums. Wyatt also plays slide guitar on A Last Straw showing what a natural musician he is. On Little Red Riding Hood Hit The Road the tempo picks up a little but without losing its intimacy, the chords run through majors and minors touching at crucial moments on the all-important 7th. Trumpets left and right play short bursts repeatedly, creating, along with the sustained keyboard, a canvas alive with bright colors. At times different parts of the mix go into reverse, the drums, the trumpets and even the vocals, confusing its circular chord sequence delightfully. Add to this the wonderfully comic lyric and Ivor Cutler’s absurd recital and it all amounts to the centerpiece of the album.

Every bit as eccentric as End Of An Ear but profoundly beautiful rather than a silly indulgence, Rock Bottom is Wyatt’s crowning achievement. —RobertRead more›

Stomu Yamash’ta, Steve Winwood & Michael Shrieve “Go” (1976)

This is the album through which Stomu Yamash’ta finally gained international recognition, not least because of Traffic’s Steve Winwood’s presence. Among the other stars are Michael Shrieve (ex-Santana and you can hear a bit of this influence at times on this album) and not mentioned on the album cover, Al DiMeola and Klaus Schulze.

Slowly rising from naught, first with space whispers, soon transformed into a beautiful melancholic symphonic movement, “Solitude” is a logical introduction to the first sung passage “Nature,” here Winwood’s voice is at it’s best. The first side is a succession of structured songs linked with instrumental passages, be they calm or more heroic/dramatic. While the strings can approach the cheesy, some of the songs can be Santana-esque (courtesy of DiMeola and Shrieve) with a funky touch (much more prominent a feature on next year’s Go Too album), the whole thing works quite well. The flipside gets even better, with the same spacey Schulze intro, later on a slightly dissonant movement including the orchestra and again later a wild funk track Time Is Here with the orchestra playing the rhythm.

Go is one outstanding album that should really be heard by everyone and certainly progheads around the world. —SeanRead more›

The Move “Message From The Country” (1971)

The final album by the Move, Message From the Country, has a scattered feel, in terms of genre, but has seemingly perfect unity. The band shed bassist Rick Price, reducing it to the core trio of Roy Wood, Bev Bevan, and Jeff Lynne: the first lineup of the forthcoming Electric Light Orchestra. The band were rendered a studio-only act, and their newfound sense of freedom and willingness to experiment in the studio are readily apparent here, making this album also not unlike Sgt. Pepper, at least in essence. However, “The Move” was no longer their primary concern, as they were focusing more on making a bold artistic statement with the first ELO album- which was supposedly recorded at the same time. The result is The Move’s most ambitious and comedic record, simultaneously.

This album, quite simply, could have never been re-created onstage by this lineup. This is mostly because Roy Wood essentially would have had to be a band of musicians unto himself, due to his tendencies to overdub a wide variety of instruments. This problem plagued the initial lineup of ELO as a touring entity, but on record, it only helped, especially here. Without Rick Price, Wood even had to take up bass guitar duties. Veterans Ace Kefford and Rick Price were solid, but surprisingly, Roy Wood blows them away on this album. His bass playing is some of the most throbbing, pulsating, and mind-blowing of its time. Even Paul McCartney’s so-called “lead bass” couldn’t hold a candle to Wood’s playing on several of this album’s tracks, especially the chugging “Until Your Mama’s Gone”.

Interestingly, “The Move” and “The Electric Light Orchestra” were two distinct concepts, and though they were one in the same at this time, they sounded quite different. This album has a more rocky sound, featuring jazzy textures, brass, flutes, and Lynne’s honky tonk-ish electric piano. The first ELO album, on the other hand, focuses on stringed instruments, particularly Wood’s grinding take on the cello, with French and hunting horns by Bill Hunt, giving it a murky, almost medieval feel. There is little overlap, as this album has little to no strings, and that album has no brass or jazzy inclinations. This disparity points to the ultimate split between Wood and Lynne after one ELO album. Lynne wanted to use the orchestral approach, and Wood wanted to incorporate a jazzier, early rock & roll element, as … Read more›

Magma “Mekanïk Destruktïw Kommandöh” (1973)

Dear God, how epic can one album get?! The Kobaïan war marches are some of the most gloriously powerful music ever created. And Magma is a great name for the band, since the combination of Christian Vander’s phenomenal Drums and Jannick Top’s thunderous Bass is simply and biblically volcanic in it’s grandeur.

Mekanïk Destruktïw Kommandöh is the apex of French Progressive Rock band Magma’s career. And it is one of the most powerful Progressive Rock albums ever released due in no small part to the ferocious Drumming thunder of founder and bandleader Christian Vander. One of the things that really sets Magma apart from the run of other Progressive Rock bands is their sheer thematic greatness. Magma’s albums center around a mythology Vander himself created about a fictional dystopian future. and all of Magma’s songs and albums are sung in Kobian, a fictitious language created just for the Kobian mythology of the Magma albums. Mekanïk Destruktïw Kommandöh is the climax of the entire cycle of Kobian mythology and the pinnacle of Magma’s career. Mekanïk Destruktïw Kommandöh is simply one of the greatest albums of all time, period. —KarlRead more›

Demon Fuzz “Afreaka!” (1970)

Progressive rock in the ’70s was traditionally recognised as being the realm of white, occasionally nerdy, hippy-types. However, challenging such notions was the all black Demon Fuzz, who signed to Pye’s prog label, Dawn, in 1970.

Afreaka!, released in the same year was there one and only album. Five tracks pitch Demon Fuzz somewhere between prog rock and psychedelic soul-laced jazz excursions, with a threadwork of world music, tribal beats and the ever-trusty wah-wah pedal weaving its spell somewhere beneath. The opening instrumental of ‘Past, Present and Future’ begins in purest progressive rock style with the meandering showmanship of a grinding bass, prior to some sultry horns kicking in and the song taking on a psychedelic jazz /soul feel that wouldn’t sound out a place on the backing track to a 70s blaxploitation flick. It continues to blend styles for just shy of ten minutes, and amazingly, for a song that is both instrumental and of a jazz-influence, doesn’t get boring. The first of three vocal tracks, ‘Disillusioned’, keeps the jazz infusion ball rolling, through the faster paced ‘Another Country’, and leading to the eight minute long ’Hymn to Mother Earth’, a gently drifting paean to the ecosphere that bursts with dramatic interludes and is underscored by the prog rock weapons of choice, the organ (sounds like a Hammond) and flute.

Demon Fuzz’s blend is just right and succeeds in cooking up an appetising dish of progressive rock/soul/jazz/world fusion. One that’s well worth the more traditional progressive rock fan dipping their finger into. —Nick/Head Full of SnowRead more›

Os Mutantes “A Divina Comedia Ou Ando Desligado” (1970)

Mutantes reached their apex with the release of “A Divina Comedia Ou Ando Desligado” which translates to A Divine Comedy or I walk Disconnected. This is a flawless record. Rita Lee is at the top of her game when she sings “Meu refrigeradora noa funciona” (my refrigerator doesn’t function). The track which precedes it, “Desculpe, baby” (I’m sorry baby) is one of the most sexy and beautiful songs ever sung. It reminds me of Wong Kar-Wai’s movies (he made Chungking Express and Happy Together). These are incredible pop tunes, but they (as some of the other reviews show) aren’t for everyone. Os Mutantes emerged from the Tropicalia movement of 60’s Brazil. If you enjoy this cd you may want to check out other tropicalist’s: Gilberto Gil, Caetono Veloso, Gal Costa, Tom Ze, Maria Bethania. Jorge Ben is not considered tropicalia, but he is very incredible and sang a song on the first Os Mutantes album. Mutantes have more of a western flavor than some of the contemporaries. If you like them more for the apparent influence of the beatles and the rolling stones, you may want to check out the Peruvian band, We All Together.

This album is essential stock for a healthy record collection, its like eating broccoli! —fossilfrolicRead more›

Stomu Yamash’ta “Freedom Is Frightening” (1973)

Japanese percussionist/composer Stomu Yamash’ta settled in England in 1972, after studying music in his native country and later in the USA. He worked mainly as a composer for theatre music, but his signing as a recording artist for the Island label brought his work to the attention of a wider audience, which later led to him forming the group East Wind, which recorded this exceptional album. Combining forces with some of the best British musicians at the time, the band included Yamash’ta on drums and percussion, his wife Hisako on violin, guitarist Gary Boyle (Isotope), keyboardist Brian Gascoigne, and bassist Hugh Hopper (Soft Machine). The music is a wonderful fusion of Western and Far Eastern elements as well as many cross genre excursions, from atmospheric ambient to high spirited Jazz-Rock Fusion. Although Yamash’ta became mostly known for the “Go” recordings featuring Traffic’s Steve Winwood, a few years later, this is truly his most remarkable album recorded for Island and the one that withstands the test of time most adamantly. Wholeheartedly recommended! —AdamRead more›

Bruce Palmer “The Cycle is Complete” (1971)

Bruce Palmer came to (brief) fame as one fifth of Buffalo Springfield, from which his frequent deportations often negatively affected the group’s touring schedule. Prior to this he reached almost-fame in The Mynah Birds, which also included Rick “Super Freak” James and fellow Canadian Neil Young. Following his return to Canada in 1968, Palmer began playing locally in Toronto again, and eventually he was offered a record deal with Verve, the result of which is The Cycle Is Complete. Sounding like early Krautrock efforts in a similar vein to Tangerine Dream and Can, the album is nonetheless structured far more loosely than it’s German cousins. It will quite likely come as a total surprise to fans of Buffalo Springfield, even if they’ve enjoyed the band’s occasional branching out into Psychedelia. —Anajondas

This obscure solo release by one-time Buffalo Springfield bassist, Bruce Palmer is one of my all-time favorite records. The album features free-flowing, trippy jazz-rock in the vein of Can “Future Days” or David Axelrod’s “Song of Innocence.” Neither of these comparisons really do it justice though as this LP is utterly unique and truly defies genre. It also possesses a mysterious charm and reveals itself slowly and begs repeated listening. Palmer passed away in ’04 but the spirit and magic of this album will always remain for those of us lucky enough to discover it. —David… Read more›

Magma “Üdü Ẁüdü” (1976)

I’ve always had a love/hate affair with Magma, a French prog-rock band, due to the inconsistent nature of their albums. On one hand they invented their own language, Kobaian, for use in their songs, but on the other hand they invented their own language for use in their songs. Amazing musicianship and innovation abound in half of their work and amazing musicianship and fucking ridiculous concepts mar the other half. However, I admire Christian Vander, Magma’s founder, for his willingness to create an entire musical universe and terminology from scratch and stick to it for over thrity years. Yes, it is downright silly at times, but the passion and intricacy of their work always wins me over in the end.

I picked Üdü Ẁüdü because I picked it up as a cut-out cassette in the mid-90s and it rarely left my walkman for many a moon. Most of my affection for Üdü Ẁüdü is solely derived from the utter madness and complexity of the title track. I used to get absolutely blazed and walk thirty minutes up the road to my record store gig with Üdü Ẁüdü as my absurd guide. There were many occasions where I tried to convert friends to Üdü Ẁüdü by describing the title track as the soundtrack to Space Invaders complicated by a factor of a thousand. The weed is gone, but that statement still holds true. I can still imagine myself as the sole gun defending the planet while armies of pixellated aliens march in lockstep towards my location. I guess this is one of the few times where my flights of fancy match my sobriety.

The rest of the album surely is not an afterthought. You get Kobaian verses, jazzy interludes, insane solos and proggy synths aplenty. Plus, the whole album still reminds me of some alien celebration with a lounge act serving as the entertainment. —magicistragicRead more›