Psych and Prog

Black Sabbath “Black Sabbath” (1970)

Hearing Black Sabbath for the first time was like dusting off and cracking open some ancient tome of infernal knowledge, with a nefarious collection of witches, warlocks, and Lucifer himself lurking around the corners of songs like “N.I.B.,” “The Wizard,” the chilling paralysis of “Behind the Wall of Sleep,” eerie acoustic drift “Sleeping Village,” and of course “Black Sabbath,” it’s diabolus in musica riff cracking open the egg on this thing called heavy metal. Hiding behind that hazy, creepy cover shot was a suite like arrangement of songs almost entirely devoted to exploring supernatural fears, rife with horror-themed imagery and the threat of unseen evil, delivered with a crushing blow rendered in stark, black and white production. Though the album drifts in it’s second act, with the extended workout on Retaliation’s “Warning” and a primitive Crow cover, “Evil Woman,” appearing on UK issues, US audiences were treated to the superior, stoned rumblings of “Wicked World.” Castle’s 1996 CD contains both tracks, though missing in action on this and subsequent Sabbath reissues are subtitles like “Wasp,” “Bassically” and “A Bit of Finger,” originally appended to the US release to pull in more publishing royalties to the band, but just adding another layer of enigma for those of us already lost in the forest, with nowhere to run as the figure in black drew closer. —Ben

Brand X “Moroccan Roll” (1977)

Any band or artist that was blessed with Phil Collins presence on the drums in the 70’s would instantly improve their sound. Brand X, of course, was no exception. In fact, If I had to choose one band to prove the greatness of Phil Collins behind the drum kit, it would be Brand X. As much as I love Genesis, it’s here that he seems most confident to create whatever he feels like and to develop a style with no restrictions. In Genesis he was brilliant on the drums, but he was always conscious of the boundaries imposed by Peter Gabriel and Tony Banks compositions. In Brand X he sounds like there’s nothing he can’t do. The other guys are brilliant as well, but it’s Phil Collins that makes them sound so tight.

The music is unmistakingly late 70’s funk-prog-fusion with a jazzy flavor. This is fusion that never becomes tiring and self-absorbed. It’s music for people who love to get lost in a sound filled with intricate patterns and cool atmospheres created by musicians in perfect control of their own vision and who know how to explore new boundaries without losing their sense of fun on the way! —Som

Can “Soon Over Babaluma” (1974)

Even without Damo Suzuki, Can demonstrate their mastery of dense, funky jamming on Soon Over Babaluma.

The opener, “Dizzy Dizzy”, with surprisingly funny lyrics whispered by Michael Karoli, shows the band at their most confident and powerful, with the added violin work fitting in the mood remarkably well. “Come Sta, La Luna”, chant-sang by keyboardist Irmin Schmidt, has an almost mystical tone that reminds one of Roxy Music’s “Triptych”, yet the sparse, beautiful piano playing gives it a quite different type of “medieval” sounds from anything coming from England in the 1970s. Whilst the almost ambient atmospheres of these two tracks are a step beyond Future Days, the remaining three songs are less atmospheric and mostly instrumental. “Chain Reaction”, sang by Karoli, is really dense and hypnotic, yet is so danceable owing to Karoli’s understated and powerful guitar work, and the four-minute mid-song solo is about the most hypnotic thing any rock band has ever put to record. The final track, “Quantum Physics” is truly ambient and remarkably fluid: almost a relief from the fiery “Chain Reaction” with which it formed the original vinyl’s second side. “Splash”, though sounding rather like the Soft Machine, was a fiery, jazzy number that showed Can’s ability to make densely improvised music was at its peak.

Soon Over Babaluma may lack the explosive quality of the Suzuki-era albums, but its glacial, hypnotic beauty is remarkable. —laikehao

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.  —Johnny

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. —Chad

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 on a Pretty Things record. The best part, is that rising synthesizer near the end, it just keeps soaring up and up and is almost overwhelming, and then the song stops. It’s a great and daring ending for an album, and is just another display of the bands great mastery of atmosphere. This is a fantastic album! —Foxtrot

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. —Robert

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. —Sean

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 he later did in his own group Wizzard. This immense gulf between the band’s two creative geniuses, however, is only obvious in hindsight, and this album is a celebration of their brief but rich partnership.

The song selection is a rich palette of varied genres, only hinted at in the band’s previous album Looking On . Rather than jamming extensively around a smaller set of compositions, the band sets out to make fascinating musical and lyrical vignettes in a relatively short time span per song. This leads to a fuller list of songs, and ultimately, even greater diversity, which is no doubt the basis of the White Album comparisons. The comedic doo wop of “Don’t Mess Me Up”, the riff-laden “Ella James”, the country-tinged Johnny Cash sendup “The Ben Crawly Steel Company” (another fine lead vocal outing for Bev “Bullfrog” Bevan), the alluringly Middle Eastern “It Wasn’t My Idea to Dance”, the goofy, McCartney-esque “My Marge” are all songs that rightfully shouldn’t be on the same record, yet somehow, feed off each other perfectly. The more serious progressive inclinations of Jeff Lynne’s songwriting, as heard on tracks like “Message From the Country”, “No Time”, “The Minister”, and “The Words of Aaron”, keep the album from straying too far into self-parody.

Simply put, this is an unusual album for The Move, and, in many ways, the polar opposite of the first Electric Light Orchestra album… yet it is the absolute perfect missing link between the two groups. It’s dense and experimental, yet loose and fun- definitely a rarity in prog rock, and serves as a testament to why these three brilliant musicians coming together was such a beautiful thing. —Tommy

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. —Karl

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 Snow

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! —fossilfrolic